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Rite of Passage

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Humor is a much-needed, free form of therapy when raising a teenager.

By JB Hager, photo by Rudy Arocha

I have always heard the rumors and rumblings of the challenges of raising a teenage daughter. Boys may be equally difficult, but I don’t have one for comparison. I’m here to tell you that all the hype is true.

Excluding combat, famine or an alien abduction, I’m challenged to think of anything more mentally taxing than raising a teenage girl. At this point, I would take my chances for a better life with the alien abduction. So I’d get probed a bit with blunt space instruments. At least that seems better than having a 15-year-old girl tell me, “You don’t get it,” “You’re ruining my life” and “All the girls are wearing this.” Does this sound familiar? I’ve completely turned into my parents, saying things like, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” It sounded ridiculous to me hearing it 35 years ago and feels even more absurd coming out of my mouth.

My wife and I have discovered a very bizarre way to deal with it. We get lost in the brain candy, better known as the Lifetime Movie Network, which airs low-budget movies meant to scare the hell out of you. Each plot is based on something shocking, tragic and complicated aimed at keeping you from ever wanting to leave your home or turn your back on your spouse or children. However, when you have your very own living, breathing teenager at home, these scenarios no longer seem scary. On the contrary, sometimes they are laughable.
 I’ll give you some examples of how things mentally switched for us at this current moment in our lives. I recently walked into the living room and my wife said, “Check this out. This woman has amnesia and can’t remember who she is or anyone around her. Doesn’t that sound awesome?” I agreed. We debated whacking each other on the head with ball-peen hammers in lieu of dinner plans, but couldn’t scientifically pinpoint the area of the head that might cause memory loss. For a while, we Googled those devices from the movie Men in Black that, in a quick flash, wipe out your memory. Our searches came up empty.

The biological switch at birth is a heavily recurring theme on Lifetime. As an adult parent realizing how much of my genetic makeup is passed on to my offspring, this is something I would roll the dice on. My wife has a great genetic makeup, but I have clearly messed this up. Odds would be in our favor with this mix-up, although it reminds me of when my dad thought he got one over on a friend by trading his AMC Hornet for his convertible VW Beetle. They both laughed as they drove off thinking they had just traded a lemon only to find out both were days away from the scrapyard.

Similar to the switched-at-birth plot is the popular Lifetime theme of finding out you have a child in her 20s you didn’t know about. We both love this idea. How do we sign up for this? Let me get to know my child when she has her own place and a decent wine selection. The money saved would be off the charts and I would spoil her so much on holidays.

Affairs with nannies: You wouldn’t believe how many films are centered on this. My wife would be thrilled if a nanny were tending to my overactive libido. Nothing seems to ruin a beach vacation for my wife quicker than me sitting next to her on the beach slurping loudly on a piña colada. She would welcome the nanny and probably suggest we stay on the other side of the island. A spinoff of this is the nanny that wants to steal your child, to which we would just say this: “We are going to turn our backs for the next five minutes. You do what you’ve got to do.”

We laughingly joke about packing our things and going to our secret families, yet another popular Lifetime theme. We then realize our secret families could potentially have teenagers. Disgruntled, we pull back out the ball-peen hammers and start swinging.

My point, which could likely be misinterpreted here, is that in going through the rite of passage of raising a teenage girl, our warped senses of humor have made us that much stronger. Movies meant to “scare you into good behavior” become our laughable little escapes. Misery loves company, right? As I write this, my wife and I are surfing the channel guide for a Lifetime movie to enjoy this evening. Here is a solid option: 8 p.m., A Neighbor’s Deception: “When a young woman accepts the kind offer from her therapist neighbor to be treated for free, she thinks she’s found the perfect situation. But the more she learns about her seemingly altruistic savior, the more she begins to fear for her safety—even her life!”

We glance at each other and I say, “Free therapy! I’ll take my chances.”

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