13 is the New 18.
by Beth J. Harpaz
When my son turned 13, I thought we'd gradually transition to having a teenager in the family. Just like potty training doesn't happen overnight, and learning to read doesn't happen overnight, and mastering a two-wheeler doesn't happen overnight, I assumed that becoming a teenager was a gradual process.
But I assumed wrong. One minute I was the mother of a goofy little boy, the next minute I was the mother of a big scary hoodlum whom people crossed the street to avoid. Bubble baths were out; deodorant and acne medicine were in. Teachers were calling me to report that he had been disrespectful in class; his grades started to sink. At any given time, he was tethered simultaneously to four different electronic devices - an iPod, a computer, a phone and a video game. His MySpace page said he was 29, but it showed a picture of him standing next to Bugs Bunny at Six Flags.
He also disappeared for long periods with no explanation, only to mysteriously return whenever it was time to eat. His friends scared me; they wore big jackets with hoods that hid half their faces. They sang rap songs with lyrics like, "This is why I'm hot!" They wore $100 sneakers that were bigger than two of my shoes lined up end to end.
I'm happy to report that when the 13th year was over, I ended up with a terrific kid. He's taught me plenty along the way - and not just how to interpret text messages like "NM JC" or "IDK." If only I'd known at the start of this process that we'd all survive and it would all be fine, it might have been easier. I've even come up with a theory as to why 13 is an unlucky number. Mothers of some ancient tribe probably noticed that when their children turned 13, they had nothing but problems for the next year.
I kept wondering why no one had warned me about the suddenness of this transition. When I was 13, it was not all that different from being 12. But when my son turned 13, it felt more like he'd turned 18. I'd always sought advice from experts when my kids were little and I didn't know how to deal with something, but instead of gentle words about how to soothe a colicky baby or cope with toddler tantrums, most of the books about adolescence seemed to assume that teenagers who act out are meth heads.
OK, I admit I was worried about cigarettes, but I'm pretty sure nobody was cooking crack in my omelette pan. And while people are always willing to offer a hand or advice when your baby is crying, when your teenager is screaming, people either walk away or call the cops. I searched in vain for a book that would tell me this was all normal, and that it would all come out OK, but I couldn't find one. So I wrote one. I called it "13 Is the New 18 ... and other things my children taught me while I was having a nervous breakdown being their mother."
Many parents have told me that they like the name of the book and can relate to it. But what really scares me is the parents who suggest names for my next book. One mother told me I should start writing "5 is the new 14." Another, with a daughter out of school, insisted that "25 is the new 16."
To complicate matters, I've just turned 48. But don't tell. If I had to write a book about my age, it would definitely be called "48 Is the New 39... and so is every other age after 40."
Beth J. Harpaz is an award-winning writer for the Associated Press and the author of The Girls in the Van. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two sons. For more information, visit her online at www.13isthenew18.com.