It is, overall, a great privilege to share a house with a teenager. Though there are undoubtedly challenges, I think that these are outweighed by the benefits:
Firstly, they challenge. Everything. Which is right and good. They are making sense of the world for themselves and are unwilling to accept conventions as truth. They will demand that you prove the value of a behaviour rather than adopt it without question. And that takes a formidable amount of energy. How many times a day do we adults let things go, do what is acceptable just because we are too tired to do otherwise? I certainly have limited energy nowadays and so have to pick my fights with care. Teenagers have to fight all their battles, even the tiniest hole in an argument is picked at with vigour. In the process consuming vast reserves of energy. That is why, given half a chance, they stay in bed until late afternoon and consume large quantities of chocolate. This behaviour (the questioning, not the chocolate consumption) is heroic. Would the world not be a better place if we could all muster the energy and courage to question the questionable a little more often? Would our teenage selves allow a misbehaving bank, a profiteering politician or a polluting industry off the hook quite as easily as we adults seem happy to do? Because we are too busy and consequently too tired. My Parkinson’s forced me off the working roundabout. Up until I was forced to retire I was, according to my family, a workaholic. Out at 6.30am. Not back till 8pm, 10pm. Always work to do at the weekend. Obsessed (they said). Focussed (I said). Single minded (agreed). I was an assistant head in an urban comprehensive. I was doing important work. Yet, as my Parkinson’s symptoms grew and I became progressively more tired, I was forced to look at the work I was being asked to do and think “Is this really necessary?” And, guess what……
It has since been my contention that most of us are busy for one of two reasons: Either, the ruling classes purposefully conspire to keep us permanently run off our feet in order to prevent us upsetting the world order which is, ultimately, arranged for their benefit and comfort. Or, we keep ourselves permanently run off our feet in order to prevent ourselves recognising that the world is arranged for the benefit of the ruling classes thus avoiding the uncomfortable responsibility to do something about it. A teenager would have no truck with either reason. Having one around the home keeps you on your toes and stimulates your own duty to question. I am reminded of the quotation by the American writer Walt Whitman that I now have as a screen saver on my phone: “Re-examine all that you have been told. Dismiss that which insults your soul.”
What has this got to do with Christmas? Well, for me, Yule, the winter, the solstice is a time to step off the merry-go-round for a while and take stock. I have never felt sufficient need to make it all the way through a book by Charles Dickens – save one. A Christmas Carol. Which is a story all about deep questioning of the choices one has made in life. And the possibility of change. Of renewal. At Christmas time. Shortly afterwards followed by the New Year with its attendant resolutions. It is there in our traditions – a recognition of the need to turn in on ourselves for a while. in the same way that animals hibernate and plants draw their sap down, we humans need to take the time to be still, look at ourselves and prepare – if we are to blossom come the Spring. Just like teenagers do.
So, thank you to the teenager in my home. For the gifts of questioning, energy and reckless courage. They are priceless.