Teenager reclassified — a poem

Sepia photo of 21 year old youth offtering a sherry to a 16 year old girl in party dress

Teenage wickedness: about to accept a small glass of sherry, or not

Teens” were coined when I was a teen
meaning those who were not-quite-human
I was mean to my mother
but otherwise failed
to make the grade
as a juvenile delinquent:
no motorbikes no intercourse
no sherry or Pimms or beer
no losing of the hat and gloves
just insolence
and flirting and kissing and staying out late
and gruesome fantasies
and a foggy fact of murder
lurking in the park.
Three years later I woke up
biochemically transformed
and mystified:
why had I despised
this mother who was pretty good
better than most in fact
this extraordinary woman
whose only crimes
were vividness and charm?
And I uttered an alien phrase:
“Good morning, Mother.”
She was startled. “You have changed.”
Overnight I was an adult.
That was now to be my state, my fate.

MP3 recording of this poem

Please comment if you can’t access this recording

Poem by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0. Photo (c)  David & Celia Taylor family archives

36 thoughts on “Teenager reclassified — a poem

  1. It is interesting how mothers have universally been vilified, downgraded, and put into the “not-so-smart” file. The sudden appearance of the teenage epiphany restored the mother to her rightful position. I think we have all been there on both sides.

    1. With a teen girl there’s a lot going on and I now presume I was jealous of my gorgeous mother.

  2. lbeth1950 says:

    It must have been a wonderful shock.

    1. It was like a switch being turned off. What a relief.

  3. Judith says:

    I wonder if accepting an alcoholic drink wAs the equivalent of accepting some kind of illegal drug today.
    Alcohol is so old hat today.
    I can remember as a teenager declaring that I would never smoke- my mother did and I hated it, but my father never did. But I also remember declaring that I would drink alcohol,because I liked it.
    I have kept to both declarations and I have just had my 77th birthday.

    1. Both good choices as it turned out!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    When I arrived at my college the first day we had a sherry reception with the college president. It was my first sherry!

    1. Hard to credit these days!

  5. Robyn Haynes says:

    I can relate to this. What is it that transforms a parent so radically, overnight!

    1. There’s a magic moment. But I doubt it’s biochemical in origin.

  6. Lovely! Sadly, many teenage girls don’t mature beyond the state you describe so vividly!

    1. There’s always time. I hope.

  7. cedar51 says:

    I don’t think I really had a teen period – shafted off to boarding school in 3rd form – 4 years later nothing much to show for it other than I knew how to “fight and get into some trouble, no qualifications” so Mother sent me to a “business school, where again I only learnt to touch type” – shafted off overseas due to a family crisis at the age of 17…into a real world of semi-adulthood – where I found out about vices; earning reasonable wage for UK/time…fun i.e. rebellion!

    1. It’s interesting to look back at those earlier selves, isn’t it? We all have our rhythms of growth.

      1. cedar51 says:

        and what is interesting, is that it’s through bloggers that I might be placed in that “memory moment” – the connecting of the people and the connecting of self is very interesting…

  8. Joared says:

    Am surprised your epiphamy was so abrupt, overnight, or is that dramatic license? Seems unless there was a specific event to trigger it, that the process would have evolved more slowly over time. Interesting what behavioral choices you made — why some were acceptable, others not to you.

    Those teen years for me coincided with several changes including moving aross the country in 4 different schools in 3 different states my early teen year, living in a somewhat rural residence with no other young people around except when I went to school and in a different geographic cultire where overt discrimination against “negroes” was the generations old accepted way of life, not to mention a public school board that applied their particular man made rigid restrictive religious beliefs on all students — and they got away with doing so. I think I may have been more preocupied with adjusting, adapting and working to get out, hopefully to college, or the military if they would send me to college free, as soon as I graduated — that I did not have time or any way to go anywhere to rebel.

    1. Wasn’t it strange? But the poem tells my truth. I can still feel myself going down the stairs feeling physically different, as if the molecules of my body had calmed their frantic jiggling —or my brain had reached a new stage of maturation. This may have coincided with leaving a rigid high school for university, but it’s the body change I recall, not a change of circumstances or philosophy. Being a teen is hard work for some, and you had such a lot to cope with! Sounds like you saw what had to be done and you did it.

      1. Joared says:

        I like your poem and the words used to tell the story — so simple and direct but complex in the experience — I sensed your feelings. I think that leaving the “rigid school” for university may have been that final factor releasing you mentally, reflected in ways physical — a convergence of timing and events maybe? You were ripe, so to speak! But I’m no authority and just imaging your experience in relation to my own welcoming of unexpected last minute events allowing me to go directly to Univ. despite sudden conflicting circumstances. You have me thinking of forces and women family who didn’t even really know me whose quiet actions made such a significant difference in my life.

      2. What a massive blessing. Let us hope we too have made a difference to some young people’s lives. If so, it’s not important whether they are even aware of this, just that they make the most of opportunities.

  9. Reblogged this on davidbruceblog #2.

    1. Thank you, David!

  10. I love this, and it definitely describes my teen years. More was in my head than in reality.

    1. That’s interesting. I think I chose a safe target for my confusion and scorn. We both survived.

      1. Living proof miracles do happen. 🙂

  11. srbottch says:

    Thank goodness we changed. And to be on the receiving end as a parent when that happens, it’s pure joy.

    1. Your comment makes total sense to me! But I waited in vain for my children to single me out for their rebellion. What did I do wrong?

      1. srbottch says:

        You mean that they never rebelled or they zeroed in on you? (Can you use ‘in on’ together?)

      2. Lucky me. And sure you can.

  12. Osyth says:

    I was mean to my mother – I simply thought she didn’t (probably thought she couldn’t in honesty) understand me. Then I had daughters of my own. And I understood them. And they were still mean. The eldest was worst, the younger three less so but still they could fell me with a filthy glare or word when I was feeling less than Teflon coated. And just like that, they are adults. And in a perverse way I miss the chaotic vitriole that studded their teens. And this brought it all back. And mine. And I thank you, in a vaguely masochistic way 😊

    1. You made me laugh, thank you! Yes, this act of the human drama continues to play itself out. There’s a sobering side: it’s a dangerous time of life.

      1. Osyth says:

        Yes it is. I have always likened it to a regression to the toddler years …. every tiny nuance felt so acutely, no half measures- you love or you hate are loved or are hated so passionately, you are the discoverer, the inventor and you shall have no boundaries imposed without a fight. The problem is you are nearly grown and as such are able to do far riskier things and added in is the terrible frisson of being a seething mass of raging hormones. That is potentially a lethal cocktail and one that is near impossible for a mother to steer without collisions. And those collisions are potentially yet more catalysts for more dangerous manoeuvres on the part of the teen.

      2. Given this explosive mix, it’s humbling to recognise that peers outrank parents and sheer luck plays such a part. Parenting can induce great compassion for families who don’t have the same good luck.

      3. Osyth says:

        Exactement and so important 🙂

  13. mistermuse says:

    As the father of two daughters who never gave my wife and I reason not to trust them when they were teenagers, we got the scare of our lives when the eldest went away to college about 3 hours away from home in the Midwest (USA). She was either 18 or 19 when one day we got a package in the mail containing her purse with nothing apparently missing, but no note or explanation….and the package was postmarked Boston! Naturally we were frantic with worry. I called the college and talked to her roommate, who claimed not to know anything, but seemed evasive. When I told her I was going to call the police, she admitted that our daughter had gone to Boston for a conference without telling us and asked the roommate not to reveal her whereabouts if we called (this was before cell phones, email, etc.). Long story short, our daughter had left her purse in the conference room on the last day of the conference; an honest employee found it and mailed it to the address in the purse.

    Our daughter never did give us an explanation other than she didn’t think it was a big deal. Maybe it wouldn’t be considered a big deal nowadays, but it was 30 years ago. And wouldn’t you know, our daughter married but never had a daughter of her own to ‘do unto her’ what she did unto us!

    1. I understand why you and your wife were alarmed: of course the anonymous return of your daughter’s purse was a big deal for you. And I can see your daughter’s point of view too: people do need a few secrets as they detach themselves from loving parents. Shame about the non-existent karma, though.

  14. This is so interesting

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