Friday, August 28, 2009

The Gap between Adult Memories and Teenage Experiences

Hi Everyone,

My name is Amanda. As there are multiple Amanda’s here, I shall be known, henceforth, as Amanda W. : ) I have a teenage daughter. I’m taking this class because I need a more objective viewpoint in regard to her. It was not that long ago that I was a teenage girl but I was different from my daughter in many ways. (At least, my memory of myself is different from her.) She is very dramatic about seemingly everything. (I do not like drama.) I’m hoping this class will help me to put her attitudes and behaviors into perspective. I also hope it will help me to remember what it was really like for me as a 13-year-old girl. In this way, I hope to be able to relate to her better.

Onto the readings….

I first read the section from Red. I was surprised at the high quality (and vocabulary) of writing some of these very young girls created. I enjoyed the whole “Anything Extracurricular” section. There were two essays in particular that I’d like to discuss.

“Apiarian Days” by Samantha Gillogly, 18, reminded me of a time in my own life. I too, was in spelling bees and, like Samantha, played the violin. (I was also in Massachusetts.) She described the feelings exactly as I remember them. When she finally gets a word she’s uncertain of, it felt like “the only things missing… [were] a lit cigarette and several shotguns aimed at my person” (198). She uses every tactic available to stall and/or grasp some sort of clue as to how to spell the word that will otherwise end it (months of preparation) all. I have memories of the same situation. I was in fifth grade and “figured it would be a piece of cake…. [until I realized there were] More than 9,000 words. I have to study this? Terrific. Thus began a three-month odyssey” (199).

What does this story tell me about girls? Well, what this one tells me about this one girl is that she is being refreshingly honest, because I can remember the exact feelings she described. It also reminds me that, although kids may be venturing on a journey that we (as parents/adults) are unfailingly proud of, we should remember that it might be just a tiny bit terrifying for them. If that is the case, a little empathy could go a long way.

Another story that I found interesting was Erika Kwee’s (age 16) “East”. Erika goes into all the things she learned on her trip, all of which were a result of “teenage life happening” (184). Two lessons she learned that I think most girls (or women) eventually learn are pretty important, because they are life lessons- in that they unfortunately continue to be true as you move into adulthood.

The first lesson I am referring to is that the “seemingly most sweet person you could ever hope to meet can be a totally different person around boys. And you just can’t keep forgiving her for that” (185). This is a tough lesson to learn because it means that you were wrong about said person. It also means that you do not know who the person really is. Further, this begins a conflict between being among fellow females in the vicinity of males and not being around both genders at the same time. The second lesson many women learn is “that everyone loves a girl who never gets upset but that very, very, very few members of the human population possess this genetic makeup” (185). This is a hard lesson because it teaches girls that they should never get upset and if (when) they do get upset, they should hide their feelings. If a girl does show that she is upset, she is made to feel inferior (to girls that hide their feelings better than she does or to boys in general).

Besides the lessons Erika learned, there was another reason I was interested in her story. Erika starts her story off as follows: “My trip to China is a secret. Not a secret in the dictionary definition way, because my parents had to arrange [the trip]…. But it’s a secret in the way that no one outside of our small group knows what we really got out of it” (184). When her parents asked her how her month-long trip to China was, she “only mumbled, ‘Good,’ not really knowing what to say” (186). What is interesting about this to me, is that Erika had just concluded a two page long essay about her trip and everything she had learned. Yet she did not think or feel that she could share all of that (or any of it, for that matter) with her parents. What this tells me about girls and their parents is that there needs to be trust so that the teen feels like she can share details without being made to feel silly or dumb. It also shows me that parents need to ask better or more questions. If you ask questions that require a one-word response, that is what you will get. If you ask more open ended questions, you can communicate more fully with your teen/child.

In Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Your Life as a Girl”, I do not think she effectively captures “girlhood”. As I read her essay, it occurred to me that she was writing more as an outside observer, than as an “insider”. She could have very well been writing autobiographically, however, she seemed quite removed from the incidents she wrote about. Many of the incidents Sittenfeld referred to, I could relate to in my own memories of being a girl. The difference between her writing and that of the girls in Red, was that Sittenfeld seemed to be writing from a third person point of view, while the girls in Red wrote first-person accounts. To me, it seemed that Sittenfeld was writing as an adult, reflecting on significant memories she held of her “life as a girl”. As memories, she wrote what had stood the test of time in her mind. I am sure, though, that had she recorded her thoughts and feelings of each event as they happened (while a girl), the results would have been exponentially more complex than what Sittenfeld expressed.

Some questions:
If you are a “grownup” and have a relationship with a teenage girl (or multiple teenage girls), did anything we read this week help you in any way with that relationship?

If you are a teenager (or not), what do you think your parent(s)/caregivers could have done to help you become more confident/happy/successful than you are now?

If you are very confident/happy/successful, is there anything your parent(s)/caregivers did that you attribute that to? If so, what is it?

~Amanda W.


Misty said...

Amanda W,

This is in response to your third question: My parents always let me make my own mistakes. They would lend me their advice, but in the end they always supported whatever decision I made. My parents were behind me in everything I did, and they let me have enough freedom to make me not want to break their trust. I am confident and happy, I always have been, and I truly think it's because my parents have constantly reminded me of how special they think I am, and have never said "you aren't capable of doing that". I am wiser and more competent because I got so much practice making my own decisions. Support and love are really all it boils down to for me.

Jo-Anne said...

Hi Amanda W! I really liked your post and the fact that you are taking this class to help you understand your daughter. I too am a long way from my teenage years and sometimes the girls seem like foreigners to me!And your assessment of how the author seemed to be telling the story as ans observer was right on! I couldn't put my finger on the difference, but you did a great job.

Ani Reina said...

Hi Amanda W,

My mentors always taught me that no one can make you happy but yourself. That standing your ground is better than having thousands of friends and being unhappy. Although I didn't listen to them during most of my teen years the advice came in handy when I started realizing what "I" really wanted in life. Another thing that really really helped me is that my family always told me how proud they were of my academic accomplishments.

Ani Estrada

Leila said...

Great post!! This class will definitely bring you back to your girlhood and I'm sure it will also help you understand where your daughter is coming from. I was so dramatic when I was a teenager; my mom used to call me histrionic and I didn't know what it meant then, but she was definitely right;)

When I was young, the mantra my mother instilled in us was "You can do anything you want to do." She was vigilant about teaching us that no matter what "it" was we wanted to do, it was possible. I remember her giving me self-esteem books and the many lectures that I hated then but am so grateful for now. I do believe we can do so much when we put our minds to it, and though it's not always easy, just about anything is possible. Her messages shaped me and my sister tremendously.

Kristen said...

I think it's so great that you are taking this class to better understand your daughter! In response to your third question: My mom is/was a single mom and one thing she did that really helped was never to let us go to be angry at each other. She was always willing to listen to my opinion without judgment. We always talked it out.

~Amanda W. said...

Hi Ladies,

I just want to thank each of you for your replies. I appreciate it!

~Amanda W. : )