Sunday, October 26, 2014

Six Days Short

On November 4th, millions of Americans will line up outside schools, libraries, and city halls to cast their votes. But I won't be with them. Not because I don't care-in fact, I think off-year elections are more important than the presidential ones because my vote might actually count for something. But on the fourth of November, my age will be seventeen years, eleven months, three weeks, and one day.
My friend Paige was born on November 1st, a week and a day before me. Three days after her birthday you'll find her at the polls.
At the Seneca Falls Convention, the first political meeting by and for American woman, most in attendance didn't dare push for the right to vote. This was 1848. Seventy two years later, they got it. Their votes had no profound political impact on the next election. As a whole, women were still less educated and less involved in life outside the homes. I'm sure thousands of them just gave their husbands an extra vote, just as thousands do it today. But that's not what matters. The point isn't what we say, it's that our voices can be heard.
There are adults out there who cast their ballot for candidates who have the same gender, race, religion, and home state. There are adults who vote for the candidate their husbands, wives, neighbors, bosses, and yes, parents choose. There are adults who will vote for a candidate just because they saw a sign with their name on it. If not, why advertise in the first place? Last week, while listening to the radio on my way to school, I heard an interviewer ask half a dozen adults one question: "Who is Joe Biden?" One woman managed to get close. "Uh...I want to say our state representative?" But there was a whole lot of "'ve got nothing."
Yes, I know how these types of surveys work. If a hundred people gave the right answer they'd still only show us the stupid ones. But these people can vote. They're the ones deciding my future.
I don't see that much difference between a twenty one year old and an eighteen year old. Or an eighteen year old and a sixteen year old. Or an eighteen year old and a seventeen year, eleven month, three week, and one day year old.
In the past, my Big Impossible Dream was a lower voting age. Now what gets my blood boiling is everyday things. I'd like to see a world where adults ask for our names before our ages. I'd like to see a world where younger students are crushed by the older kids. I'd like to see a world where teachers didn't rape students, where kids weren't scared to go home to their parents at the end of the day, where seven year olds can walk down a street without planning kidnapper escape routes.
But maybe, just maybe, there's a chance. Takoma Park, Maryland has already dropped the voting age to seventeen. I don't see more cities following in their footsteps anytime soon, but Lowell could be our Seneca Falls.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Because I Said So

My best friend, Esme, isn't on social media. She misses party invites because she isn't on facebook. She's not caught up with her eight closest friend's social lives because she isn't on instagram. She's never been wounded in the crossfire of a twitter fight.
She's missing out. So she had a conversation with her mom that went something like this:
Esme: I want to decide whether or not I'm on social media.
Mom: I don't want you on social media.
Esme: No, that's not what I care about. I want to not be on social media if I don't want to.
Mom: Um...okay. So you don't want a facebook.
Esme: That's not the problem.
Mom: don't want to have a facebook because you don't want to have a facebook.
Esme: Yep! You're catching on!
Mom: Okay. Do you want a facebook?
Esme: Nope. Thanks, Mom!
To an outsider, this conversation probably seems ridiculous. But I've had a million just like it.
 Teenagers are so rarely given the opportunity to decided what we want to do. We learn to be content with why. I have most of the same social, political, and religious views as my parents. But I want to make sure I happen to agree with then instead of blindly following an example. So when I'm forming an opinion on, say, the gay marriage debate, I pour over articles and posts and flamewars on the subject before I make up my own mind. Adults can win any argument with four words: "because I said so". It doesn't matter how well we word our rebuttals, how reputable our sources, how erudite our vocabulary. Its insulting on the best days and soul crushing on the worst. That's why we need agency. It's the next best thing to authority.
Even though we agree on most things, I still get snapped at for saying things like this.
Mom: I think you should keep your grades up so you can get into BYU.
Me: Well, that's a fun coincidence. I'm not going to obsess over one college, and I'm going to continue getting good grades so I can get into BYU, a school I like because it has a good English program.
Mom: Be nice to me.
Oh wait, I forgot. There are two cards.
The whole point of life is to learn how to think and act for ourselves. The teenage years are so critical because, for the first time, we have opinions and beliefs instead of wants and needs. If we wait until adulthood to express our opinions, do we really qualify as adults?
Don't spend your whole life stressing about being nice. Its impossible not to step on someone's toes. If you're to offend people, offend them for reasons that matter. Grow up. Develop your own moral code. Decide what kind of person you want to be. And if that person matches up with what your parents, well, goodie for them. You just took your own path to get there.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sick Old Man

Men like him make it hard for me to trust the adult population
It has come to my attention that we are now inferior to ten year old boys. Thanks for the heads up, John Grisham. Apparently viewing child pornography isn't so bad if you're oggling a sixteen year old girl instead of a ten year old boy.
In my Women's History class, we talked about the colonial gender system, in which women and girls were viewed as vile temptresses. Supposedly, this viewpoint had been outdated for centuries. Women, for the most part, have been cleared. But why does the stereotype of the teenage slut persist?
Dear Mr. Grisham,
You know what? You're right. Rubbing your sick old man hands over the picture of a sixteen year old girl doesn't make you a "real paedophile". The term is ephebophile. This bothers me. Seeing as you're such a literate man, it might do you good to pick up a dictionary next time you're doing a book signing.
The Teenage Population of the World
P.S.: It's still grossly wrong. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why Teens Don't Tell

Today I told with my dad about my friend Janey, who was bullied throughout middle school. Boys shoved her in the hallways. Girls left notes I her locker urging her to kill herself. What did she do to deserve this?
A boy asked Janey if she thought he was cute. And she told him, "No. I think you're cocky."
When I finished this story, my dad turned away and said, "I have a hard time feeling sorry for Janey." I slammed a door but came back a minute later asking why. He told me, "Popular girls just have problems like that. Besides, she was born in America to a good religious family and she's an athlete. I can feel sorry for people with real problems, like disabilities, but not her."
I've been thinking a lot about the word trust. Every lecture I've heard-whether it's about internet safety or bullying or rape-closes with the words "tell a trusted adult." To me, trust doesn't mean someone I can count on to punish me. It means someone I can count on to listen.
At this moment, I don't trust my dad. Maybe the reason so many teen problems go unreported is we don't have adults we can trust. Specifically our own parents.
My friend Leah grew up with neglectful parents. She drank water out of a toilet bowl like a dog until the age of three. That's when her mom got custody and she learned to drink from a cup. 
In seventeen years of existence, I've never walked up to my dad and said, "Thanks for not making me drink out of a toilet." I shouldn't have to. I shouldn't have to be grateful that they have basic human decency. I've never thanked my parents for giving me a rent free roof over my head, for food and clothes, for love, for anything that children are entitled to. I assumed these were rights. That my parents weren't heroes for providing them. That any parent who didn't was substandard and mine were simply okay.
For some reason, it's not okay for children to compare themselves to other children. "But all my friends have smartphones!" Hypocritically, its perfectly acceptable for parents to compare themselves to other parents. "The Joneses didn't buy Cody a smartphone so you don't need one." Parents compare themselves, and when they find themselves just as good or better than the Joneses, they see no room for improvement. So when their children come running to them with a problem Cody doesn't have to deal with, they see no need to solve it. Their kid is fed and clothed and educated, what are they whining about?
Just because your parents aren't physically, emotionally, verbally, or sexually neglectful doesn't mean they are a good parent. A good parent is one who listens.
My friend Karyn confided in me that she was raped twice before the age of sixteen. When I shared this story with my mom, telling her no more or less than what I've told you, she cut me off. "She probably put herself in a bad situation."
I explained that no, that's not the case, and told her Karyn's story.
"How are you supposed to know if that's true?" she said once I finished.
I'm not supposed to know if it's true. I'm supposed to take her seriously whether it's true or not. I'd rather comfort a liar than make a true victim feel ashamed. This way I have my bases covered.
Do you want to know why teenagers run away from home? Commit suicide? Hide our eating disorders? Keep quiet about bullies? Because we don't trust our parents to hear us out. Its not that we haven't tried talking, its that we get turned down every time we try. Janey didn't go to her dad for more than a year because she didn't trust him to listen. Leah certainly didn't trust her father. Karyn's father is a cop, so he responded by giving her self defense tips. But not all girls are that lucky.
No parent is perfect. So when your children come to you with a problem, don't go, "Oh no! They're accusing me of parenting imperfectly!" 
Listen to them. 
Really listen.

Note: I wrote this post a few months back. My dad has since apologized for what he said about Janey. Also, all the names in this post have been changed.

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Go Up

I've spent the last three years counting down. If I pull up a song on youtube that's two and half minutes long, I spend all of that watching the second tick by. Halfway through! Only a minute left! Thirty seconds!
When I watch TV, I divvy up the show into seven minute segments and count how many are left. Cracking open a new book from my favorite author is a journey. I'm not happy until I'm done and I can move onto all the other titles on my To Read List.
It got to a point where the stories and sounds couldn't thrill me anymore. Actually, a lot of things didn't thrill me anymore. Like days and weeks and months. Life was about checklists. Homework, chores, meals, exercise, friends, movies, all of them were nothing but bullet points on my to-do list. I scheduled my life obsessively. In August of last year, I sat down and planned out what I'd be doing every night in November.
Last night, I went to a school football game. Four quarters. Fifteen minutes apiece. A stupid scoreboard that kept dragging seconds into minutes. Then the other team tied us with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Uh-oh, I thought, Overtime. Friday's late start day and I didn't have any homework due. There was no reason I needed the game to end early. But it was going longer than I planned so it was wrong.
I turned on my phone and counted out the surplus minutes.
The crowd kept talking about overtime as the scoreboard cut that number into smaller and smaller pieces. Four minutes. Three, two, one. forty eight point six seconds. Then, a miracle.
At 6.4 seconds, our kicker scored a field goal. 31 to 28, silverwolves.
I screamed our fight song with the best of them, and as the bleachers shook, I stopped thinking about the numbers and remembered what the game was.
Our rivalry game.
An underdog game.
The last home game of the season.
My last season as a silverwolf.
My last chance to belt out the fight song and cheer on our team and rattle those cold bleachers.
I could've been bittersweet. But for once in my life, I wasn't counting down. I didn't think about the number of minutes left in the day (ninety six), the days left in the school week (one), or the weeks left in the month (three and a spare day).
I kept my eyes on the field, away from that scoreboard, and let the number fall away. Once they left, I felt clean. Pure. A blank canvas. Then three small words scrawled themselves across my mind.
I go up.
I didn't let myself think of the future. I got my mid-youth crisis out of the way sophomore year. I'm due for a carpe diem year. I'm inoculated against senioritis.
Adults tell me that we'll be nostalgic for our high school years. Maybe they are, but things have changed. We spend our whole high school lives muttering get good grades, get good scholarships, get good college, get good job, pay off student loans. There are definitely things I miss about being seven, nine, fourteen, fifteen, but it's all tied to the way my brain was wired back then. Not the things I did with my life.
I'm inoculated against senioritis, I say. I'm done counting down. For now on, I go up.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rearview Mirror

Today I forgot my own age.
I searched for Emma Watson's speech and it came up with one of those mini bios. "Cast as Hermione at age nine, born in Paris, oh look, she's twenty four. Only five years older than I am and she's already giving speeches to the UN."
Wait. That number didn't sound right. I subtracted five from twenty four and got the usual answer, nineteen. I'm seventeen. I'll be eighteen next month, but I'm nowhere close to nineteen. How did I get that number?
I'm starting to think of my teenage years in past tense. When I'm mentally arranging my daily life into stories, I don't start with "today at school" or "the other day". I think "When I was a senior in high school."
Two years ago this would have horrified me. My age is such a huge part of my identity and it's a part I'm proud of. I didn't want to leave it behind. But you know what? I'm okay to do this. I can learn and grow. I can have new trials and passions. I can have days or weeks where I don't get riled up about ageism. Bodies and minds can age but my soul is eternal. Numbers don't bother it.
 I filled up another one of my journals last week. Instead of ending with "Please don't forget who you were and what it's like to be a teenager," the way I usually do, I told myself, "I trust you. I think you're good."
Now that we're seniors, lots of my friends are going through this mid-youth  crisis. But I got mine out of the way when I turned sixteen. I promised myself that I wouldn't make this year bittersweet. I can wax nostalgic for the rest of my life. But this is my last chance to be a high schooler.
Age, I'm not afraid. Bring it on.

Friday, October 3, 2014

You Are Unique. Just Like Everyone Else.

I've never met a normal teenager.
My friend Esme isn't normal because she prefers showtunes over pop. Another friend, Tianna, isn't normal because she prefers hanging with her little sister to friends. My cousin Maysen isn't normal because she isn't on social media. My friend L'ren isn't normal because she's never been on a date and got her first cell phone this Wednesday. Just last week, a girl I'm doing a school play with came out as abnormal. She's only snapped one selfie and never sipping a Starbucks.
I suppose I should come out as well. Here I am, sitting cross legged in front of a computer on a Friday night. There's a football game, for heaven's sake. A football game with a stand full of teenagers. I don't want to go, though, because apparently I'm an aberration.
Normal just means stereotypical. There's room for all types of teenagers on this planet. We don't have to fit into one mold, but I don't think there's anything wrong with those who do. If you're involved in school events, date regularly, and keep up with your friends via twitter and instagram, goodie for you.
My mom likes to drag me to baby and bridal showers. It's the best of both worlds for her. She doesn't have to show up alone and she needn't take the time and effort to invite a friend. I'm always the youngest one there. These are her old friends. They remember me as a baby but I can't put names to faces. I don't know if I'd want to.
So I pull out my phone. My parents canceled my data plan and I don't have any games. I spend most of my time on my notes app writing stories, posts, journal entries, to do lists, and rants about whatever's on my mind. But I try to hide my phone while I do it.
I know how I look: an antisocial teenage daughter firing off acronym-heavy texts to her BFFs. So I hold my phone under a table or sit cross legged, shielding it with my knee.
We don't need to be embarrassed. There's no more shame in a teenager texting than a girl favoring pink, skirts, and nail polish. But that doesn't stop all my friends from protesting, "We're not girlie girls."
Don't worry about being unique. Just be yourself.