Hosting two thirteen year olds at the impromptu Camp Two Terriers has been, as I suspected it would be, a real learning experience. But as I didn’t expect, it was me that did the learnin’. Granted, it’s been…well… a few years since I was thirteen, but I thought I had a pretty good recollection of what it was like. Not a clue. My recent experience with kids has been with nieces in their late teens and early twenties and friends’ children in their toddlerhood. Thirteen. Big difference. A completely different planet. Or rather, we are on a different planet, Planet Adult. And we can’t possible comprehend or remember the excruciating uniqueness and pain of being of that age.
But I’ve been schooled. Or skoold, I should say. And, as a public service to my readers, I’m ready to pass along what I’ve learned.
1. Energy. You assume kids have tons of it. Yes, the little ones do. The twenty year olds do. The thirteen year olds? They have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Weltschmerz is one of the those wonderful words only the Germans can come up with. It basically means complete weariness with the world, but connotes so much more. Such as the depressing realization that the perfection imagined by your intellect can never be realized in this imperfect world. Wikipedia and others credit a German author for introducing this concept and people like Lord Byron for spreading it. I think if proper research were done, it would be found that some German thirteen year old actually outlined the whole thing in his or her diary. Can you say “Been there, done that” in German? I bet Heinrich Heine did. At age thirteen.
2. Enthusiasm. We adults assume, since kids have fewer years, everything new is a wonderful exciting experience. We’re clueless. Well okay, this approach works on really young kids. But thirteen? They’ve already texted so much more than we’ll ever know. I mean, there are some parents, and I’m not naming names, who actually think that thirteen year olds will think doing manual labor in the dirt, in 100 degree weather and sleeping in a cabin, with no TV would actually be fun. I rest my case. Clueless.
3. Deference. C’mon, why should a thirteen year old defer to you? You can’t POSSIBLY know what it’s like to be thirteen. Oddly, they understand that the vast majority of adults went from age 12 directly to age 14. We JUST DON’T GET IT. But I’m not being facetious here. Think about it. When you are a young kid, you are just trying to absorb: learning to read, learning to skateboard, learning how not to have the sixth graders beat you up. By the time you are a high school freshman, you are the lowest of the low. After that, you are just climbing the ladder and very few of us get to the point where no one is over us. But thirteen? You’re the top of the top of Middle School. You really DO know it all. It’s lonely at the top, my friends.
Now before you think I’m slammin’ on my thirteen year olds at Camp Two Terriers, let me set the record straight. No better thirteen year olds exist today. They did everything I asked of them and were unfailingly polite. They humored me. They even gave me an experts’ introduction to Rap. And folks, they don’t have camp for that! But how would you react if you were constantly dropped down in situations where people were clueless, really boring and, worse yet, spoke English as a second language? Add to that, you couldn’t have a couple of Martinis or drive away? I know I wouldn’t have the patience for it. Neither would you. Welcome to a thirteen year old’s world.
So the next time you see thirteen year olds, shoulders bowed, shuffling along as if they can’t lift their feet from the ground, trying desperately not to roll their eyes at everything you say, have some compassion.
They suffer for our sins. Or our cluelessness. Which is even worse.
Addendum: There are a few people who have escaped the curse of “Uncoolness to Thirteen Year Olds”. Thank goodness Andy is taking a few days off to join us. For some reason, he never stopped being thirteen. Thirteen year olds recognize that. And I mean that in a good way.