This I Believe

Julie - Madison, Wisconsin
Entered on February 12, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: children
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I believe in teenagers.

I can just hear you.

“C’mere, honey. This crazy woman just said she believes in teenagers!”

“No, you must have misunderstood. Nobody in her right mind believes in teenagers. I’ll bet she believes in bean-bag chairs.”

Gentle listener, you heard me right: I believe in teenagers.

I spend my work life surrounded by 1800 of them. Each morning when I enter my old, brick castle of an urban high school, it’s like venturing into Time Square on New Year’s Eve. As I forge a path through the pulsating sea of bodies, I am assaulted by loud voices, overpowering cologne, questionable language, rowdy antics and then it happens. It always happens.

Before I reach my classroom door, I am smiling.

Maybe it’s the wiseacre message on a T-shirt or the startling hue of a fresh Mohawk or a glimpse of sweet, young love in bloom. Whatever it is, I am awash in a tenderness usually reserved for one’s own offspring.

And that’s the hook.

Funny, I never knew if I really liked teenagers, but I felt quite certain they didn’t like me. I was a single parent of three of them, each of whom rendered me in the fetal position when I made a dutiful, but pathetic attempt to teach them how to drive. They’re all grown up now and in addition to the inescapable mother-child bond, the universe worked its magic and we’re buddies. I would never have predicted it back in the day when they shot me looks reserved for The Enemy, when they broke curfew and what felt like my heart.

My read on teenagers is based on indelible battle scars, a river of tears and sleep-foiling frustration.

“You see these gray hairs?” I’ll ask a kid, bending my 56-year-old head. “They’ve all got your name on ‘em.”

This pronouncement is met with snickers and/or sheepish grins. It’s a shtick I’ve performed at least 237 times.

Here’s what I know for sure.

Teenagers want you to dislike them. If you don’t, they’re not doing their job. So they’ll make every attempt to scare you, repel you, hurt your feelings, make you scream to the heavens. But if you give them a clean slate every day and keep showing up for more, you got ‘em in your pocket.

Teenagers are no fools. They have zero tolerance for b. s. — it makes their eyes glaze over.

Teenagers are generous. Who knew a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos could stretch so far?

Finally, all teenagers have it hard. They just have it hard in different ways. Some don’t have the basic necessities to survive in this world. And we expect them to be good students? I’d like to see you try it. Others have an abundance of things and no one to count on. All teenagers, each and every one, are caught up in untold battles within themselves.

Yeah, teenagers have issues. See these gray hairs?

My nest may be empty, but my heart is full.