Teenage Drama Queen is Redundant – Twice

Now that I have a teenage daughter, I’ve been trying to put her mood swings in the context of the way I acted when I was 15. I’m quite sure I wasn’t an overly emotional teenager; my mother would have killed me. She had already raised two “emo” daughters and had no patience for anyone else in the family “pulling a Tallulah” as my father called it. This phrase came from Tallulah Bankhead, a 1940’s movie actress who my father considered the epitome of a “drama queen.”

So even though I had witnessed the tears and fears of two older sisters during their high school years, I thought that my daughter would be more like me and keep her emotions on the inside. But as a very wise person recently told me, in a healthy family all feelings are tolerated. I’ll take that as encouragement that we’re on the right track as parents because she certainly doesn’t hold back any of what’s going on inside her when the pressure of school, friends, and activities becomes overwhelming. It spills out like a tsunami of emotion. As parents, it can be hard at those times to keep our footing and not get swept away by the waves of despair.

Like this past Saturday, Steve and I were out running errands when we got a call from Valerie that one of her friends had called to invite her to go shopping. The friend’s mom was going to drive several of them to the mall so they could all shop for dresses to the Valentine’s Day dance. This would seem like a straightforward question, but after a few minutes on the phone with Valerie, the whole issue looked like a pile of tangled yarn.

“That sounds fun, why don’t you go?” I suggested. “But I’m too tired and I have too much homework.” So the next logical response from me was, “Ok, then why don’t you stay home?” “But I’m always the one who can’t go because I’ve got homework, gymnastics or I’m too tired. I can never do anything fun.” “Then why don’t you go?” “But what if I go and I don’t have fun?” “It might do you good to get out of yourself, so why don’t you go.” “But I’m too tired and have too much homework.” Followed by heavy sobbing.

I know she’s in agony over this decision but I’m starting to get dizzy from making the loop around the track of this circular conversation again and again so I hand the phone to Steve. I’m thinking we should insist that she go just so we can have a break from the whining for the afternoon. But Steve wisely recognizes that what she is really asking for is some reassurance and very simple direction. “Just get dressed and go. You always have a good time with your friends and you won’t get any rest moping around the house wishing that you had gone. We’ll be home by 1:00 to take you to your friend’s house.”

We weren’t sure what would be waiting for us when we got home, but obviously some strong leadership was what was needed because when we came in the house, Valerie was dressed with her makeup on and her purse on her shoulder ready to go. She went to the mall and came home a new woman.

I never had any doubt, but raising a teenage daughter certainly points out the differences between boys and girls. I don’t think my 19 year old son, Ethan, has ever agonized about any decision, especially a social one. His phone conversations last about three seconds. “Do you want to come over?” He replies with, “No, I’m tired.” “Ok, bye.” And that’s the end of it. There are no ramifications whether he goes or stays home.

But where Valerie is concerned, there are no easy decisions. She frets about what she’s going to have for lunch, whereas Ethan isn’t the least bit concerned about where he’s going to college. Obviously my angst DNA wasn’t doled out equally among the kids.

Recently, I was describing my experiences with Valerie to a mother of young children and she said that it sounded just like what she was going through with her toddler. If she says black, her child says white, nothing is ever right, and a meltdown could be just around the corner. But then there are times when her two year old craves closeness and couldn’t be sweeter snuggling on the couch and watching a DVD.

That aspect holds true for Valerie as well. But instead of watching a Barney DVD, she was plastered up against me last night while we watched The Bourne Ultimatum. When I teased her that she was invading my personal space and sucking the life out of me, her response was that I gave up my right to personal space when I became a mother and that someday she’ll be gone and I’ll miss her clinging to me. She is so right.

So I guess I’m discovering what scientists and psychologists have known for years: that whether it’s a toddler or a teen, when the brain is going through a major reorganization, the behavior can be a little extreme but it’s all very normal. However, what worries me is this: they’re only a “terrible two” for a year, but a teenager for seven.

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