Riding the Adolescent Wave

2010 Mavericks surfing competition. The image ...

2010 Mavericks surfing competition.

Spring is a time for new beginnings, and for endings.

This year D turned 15 and has hit her full adolescent stride.  Always independant, living in a city whcih gives her full access to a metro system, taxis, friends who live in far corners of the city, and an endless list of weird and wonderful things to do -she has taken it all by storm.  If she were a surfer she would be up at the crest of a large wave, sunshine glinting off the water and her hair, admiring the beautiful view below her. Sometimes finding the balance between school and sports and social life is hard, but she faces that challenge head on.

S2 is 17, almost 18, and finishing high school.  He has finished the college application process and chosen a school which I, but more importantly he, believes is a good match.  He has also decided to take a gap year and stay in Shanghai with us so he can study Manderin for another year at a local university.  Even with all of this decided he is still suffering from that most awful of adolescent traumas – senioritis mixed with angst. The angst is four fold.  First is the feeling of leaving a school system that has consumed their entire lives.  Each year brought a new grade and new classes but the sameness of the bus schedule, lunch with friends, after school activities, then home to do homework,  was incredibly comforting.  The second part stems from that deep seeded feeling that most, I think, teenagers have because they believe that the major they pick for college will determine the professional direction of their entire lives with no possibility of change.  I am the model of change and reinvention for careers and have tried to point this out, but I am the mom – what do I know??  The third layer on top of all this angst is the sense of belonging or not belonging.  He came to China just for his last year of high school, leaving all of his friends back in the north east.  He didn’t think he would mind graduating from a different school, but as the days approach I think he does feel he is missing out on a bonding experience with those kids.  (His totally amazing band leader from the USA has agreed to let S2 play in the school band at graduation.  S2 is really excited about being part of the day).  The last, and perhaps biggest hurdle, is the emotional house of mirrors he seems to live in due to Aspergers.  He has a great deal of trouble self identifying emotions and the situations that bring them on.  He is generally not comfortable with strong emotions of any kind.  It is almost like he wants to crawl out of his skin when he feels very happy or sad.  And afterwords he often cannot express or identify what made him happy, sad, angry etc.  Usually kids like being happy and look back on the experiences of the day and make a mental note somewhere in their psyche that X = happy therefore repeat X and Y = sad therefore do not repeat Y.  S2 has not mastered this concept, but he is working very hard to.  In the mean time he rides his own surfing wave.  On his ride he seems to ride many tall waves that come in quick succession.  One moment he is at the crest enjoying the sunshine and the next he is in the trough feeling the chill of the shadow over him which comes from the next looming wave.  He knows if he can climb back up to the top of the wave it will be warm and sunny, but it’s a hell of a lot of work to do that and he doesn’t always have the mental or physical energy to get there on his own.  Sometimes he seems to have his surfboard clipped by the crashing wave, sending him tumbling headlong into the dark water and desperately trying to figure out which way is up before he runs out of air. Even with all of this he tries and tries again.  I hope he knows how proud I am of him.

S1 is riding his surf board with grace and agility.  He is becoming his own man.  He has just finished his third year at college and will be starting an internship this summer to help him clarify what he wants to do when he graduates.  He has a great girlfriend and they seem very supportive of each other.  He still flounders on his board sometimes and then my instinct is to go running and save him, as any good lifeguard would do.  This can be – ok, often is- a source of friction between us.  For S1 I need to learn to lay back and wait to be called.

My husband and I are the lifeguards at this wild beach.  We have our own long boards which we desperately paddle out into the rough waters to pull, push, prod – whatever it takes- in order to bring them into shore safely.  But I am getting old for surfing.  My body struggles to pop up to standing and find a sense of balance.  I struggle with my own board and yet would give my life to save their lives.  Most of the time they seem absolutely oblivious to the fact that there are other people (parents, teachers, family, friends) running to them, circling them with life rings and other safety nets.  They may grab one and be towed safely to shore, but in words and attitude seem to believe they swam there themselves.  But every once in a while they look up and around and not only see but acknowledge the other people around them.  I am determined to stand vigil on this beach, watching the wild waves roll in and my beautiful children call ‘look mom, no hands!!’.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you standing on your  beach!

14 responses »

  1. you are an amazing writer. I hope you are going to try to put all this in book form when you leave Shanghai!

  2. I read this (several times) on my iPhone while waiting for dinner at a restaurant last night (dining alone … enjoying the peaceful solitude). Your writing is phenomenal. I love the metaphor comparing your family to riding the wave. Clever and insightful.

    • Thank you so much. The posts that delve into my personal life are so much harder to share than the observations about China. So it’s really nice to hear that you liked it, that it’s not just floating out there in cyber space.
      By the way, I feel the same about your pictures. They are so beautiful. They have an incredible soulfulness to them.

  3. You have a wonderful way of explaining what so many of us are going through. Thank you for putting it in this perspective. Happy Mother’s Day to you too.

  4. We all have deep-seated feelings of all sorts. You may remember a kite flyer who was always trying to put just the right pull, release, or direction into the string, so my ever-further kites would fly safely on their own.

    Seems each generation has its own challenges, abilities & images. It all looks pretty good from here !

    Love, Dad

  5. What a wonderful blog. By David’s comment I learned that he had been a gifted kite flyer. This makes me proudly report that one of my nieces, namely Nikola Engelhardt (also on facebook) is also one that has even run a kite school somewhere in the Caribics. Take care, Gunther

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