A former student recently asked me if there’s anything I miss about being a teenager. I definitely had to think about it before responding. (It also prompted me to dig up the above photo from my senior year.) Most of the time when adults talk about their teenage years they either end up saying something like, “Oh to be young again” with a wistful gaze thinking of first loves, the big game, or that one crazy time with their best friends. Others shake their heads and roll their eyes saying, “Those years were hell,” thinking of the snobby cliques, the classes they dreaded, those kids who made them feel like crap, or problems they hid by using the classic line of “it’s fine.” For me, middle school and high school were a mix of good, bad, awesome, and awful. But here are 2 things that I miss about being a teen that I never thought I would.
1. Not having my driver’s license: I know, getting your license is supposed to be your ticket to freedom, but I honestly hate driving. Having been in a bad accident (although I was the passenger), and knowing a few people who have survived some terrible wrecks definitely contributes to how I now feel about driving. But, there was also something that was so comforting about being the passenger as a teen. I got to control the music and chat without a care, roll the window down and move my hand through the cool breeze in a wave-like motion, never having to worry about keeping my eyes on the road or about getting lost (something I’m still very good at). It was so convenient to never have to make a car payment or shell out wads of cash in maintenance fees to some guy who may be playing me because I’m unfortunately the kind of woman who doesn’t know much about cars and wishes I did. Sure, driving has its perks: knowing that you can hop in the car at any moment and go visit friends or family, and you can escape even just for a few hours and blast your music, singing as loud as you want–until you realize the people in the car next to you are shocked at your ridiculous behavior. But, if I could, I’d go back to being a license-less teen, bumming rides off of friends and loving life in the passenger seat. When I was 10, I said I couldn’t wait until I was 16 so I could “get in a car and drive on out,” but that obviously changed as I got older. Sure, wishing people could drive me around again is selfish and childish, but most people miss things like having their parents pay for everything, or not having so much responsibility. I just wish I had a chauffeur.
2. Cowboys: I grew up in a small farm town of about 700 people in rural northern CA. It’s made up of ranchers, environmentalists, and some who fall in between. I was friends with all types of kids, but my ranching friends often playfully called me a hippy, and I was cool with that. I’m still close with some of my childhood friends, but I don’t live there anymore. So, I sometimes find myself listening to country music and thinking about those nice guys who would open doors for girls, pull hilarious stunts, and fill the hallways with laughter–the cowboys. Of course, like any group, they weren’t all nice and funny. But, there were a particular subset who definitely were. I honestly hated their Wrangler jeans and muddy (or cow pie covered) boots, and I openly dissed country music. But, it wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized those twangy songs would always remind me of home, and I never really appreciated how genuine and gentlemanly those guys were. They contributed to my standards for the kind of guys I’d hang out with or date. Granted, I never thought, “I want to find a guy who ropes cattle, can move water lines, or loves rodeos.” That wouldn’t fit me at all. But, I did find myself appreciating guys who would hold the door for me not because I couldn’t open it myself, but because they were showing me respect. I still love laughing about the crazy things they did for a laugh, like licking the heart of a fetal pig during dissections in 8th grade for five bucks, or somehow filling school lockers with disgusting beady-eyed pack rats for their Senior prank. I may not have agreed with some of their political views or their fashion choices, but that didn’t stop me from being friends with them. And, let’s be honest: friends are remembered long after the bells ring and the textbooks close.
I did learn a lot as a teen, both inside and outside of classrooms. But what people say and do can stick in your mind just as much as the definition of a vocabulary word or the quadratic formula. And, as an adult looking back, I hope I stand out in a good way in other people’s minds just like I remember particular cowboys with a smile, and still appreciate all of the people who carted me around before I got my license. But do I now refer to my teen years as “the golden years”? Nope. The way I see it, there are flecks of gold in every year.