Collection of essays is a survival guide for parents of teens

September 27, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

I don't know about you, but when my children are getting the best of me, the last thing I want to do is read a self-help book on how to raise teenagers without letting them get the best of you.

What I want to do is call up a friend, complain bitterly, make all sorts of threats that I probably will not carry out (if my kids are lucky) and then hang up the phone, feeling better for having vented.

Now there is an advice-free book to read when your best friend's line is busy. Even the title is a comfort for the overwhelmed parent: I Wanna Be Sedated: 30 Writers on Parenting Teenagers, edited by Faith Conlon and Gail Hudson (Seal Press, 2005, $15.95).

It is a collection of essays, many of them very funny, from parents who have it worse than you have it. There is nothing like someone else's train wreck of a life to make you feel better about your own.

Conlon and Hudson, Seattle neighbors who helped each other cope by listening and laughing together, decided that the best experts on raising teens are the ones who have survived, and they set about collecting their writings.

They recognized, they said, that parents of children of all ages "hunger for the honesty of true stories." Parenting books don't do the job because they offer advice that "is hard to plug into the messiness of real life."

What you need to read, the editors concluded, is not someone's idea of how to do it right, but someone's account of how they survived when it all went wrong.

The title, taken from the lyrics of a punk rock song by the Ramones, captures the "wake me when it's over" fatigue of raising children. Especially when it comes to our teens, we are worn out by our efforts to make things happen according to script.

So, of course Jeffrey Wallace's daughter gets her first period when Mom is in the Colorado woods on a camping trip. "Why," he writes in "Shopping for Kotex," "why couldn't this have been an earthquake? Then we could just stand in the doorway and wait for it to go away."

And Connie E. Curry's effort to help her son with his middle-school health class vocabulary words dissolves into a cold-sweat version of the sex talk in "Homework Assignment." That is, until she finds that not all his innocence has been lost.

W. Bruce Cameron, whose book 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter inspired the television series, does a brilliant job of creating an owner's manual for teenaged girls.

"Teenage daughters require one of two levels of maintenance: `High' and `Ultra High,'" he writes. "This means whatever you do won't be enough and whatever you try won't work."

David Carkeet takes the opposing point of view in "How to Lie to Your Parents." He tells teens what to do when parents attempt to "[fill] up their no-lives with some snooping about your plans."

His advice? "It's best not to tell them anything at all about your life. But you already know that."

The laughs are offset by serious talk. There are essays about drugs, runaway children and a daughter's determination to get a tattoo.

"Baby books explain," writes Helen Klein Ross in "Their Bodies, Ourselves," "that an infant assumes her mother's body to be her own, that it takes several months for a baby to learn where her own body stops and her mother's begins. The books say nothing about how much longer it takes a mother to absorb this difficult lesson."

The book ends with Anna Quindlen's poignant essay about her rapidly emptying nest. "Three rooms empty," she writes, "full of the ghosts of my very best self."

This collection of essays captures the range of feelings in the roller coaster world of raising teens - from intense love to irrational anger - in the words of men and women who have lived this life and survived to tell the tale.

Between its pages are friends you can call on anytime.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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