Bungee jumping sounds remarkably similar to bringing up a teenager. The headlong jump from the edge of the precipice, after which you dangle upside down at the end of a rope, swinging back and forth, your system rebelling from the almost-free fall — the similarities are striking.
There's just one major difference: somebody up there slowly pulls the bungee jumper back up, but the mother of the teenager has to find her own way up, slipping, falling, getting up and plodding ahead, gathering all the wits and nerves she can find on the way.
One moment you are the best mother in the whole world, not only the kindest and the most understanding, but the most beautiful one as well. The next, though, the beast has risen, foaming at the mouth. And you become Prince Charming's stepmother, plus Macbeth's three witches, all rolled into one. Just when you begin to accept that you're working at a lost cause, he comes to you with a hangdog expression and apologises, explaining he has had a lousy day at school, and he didn't mean what he said. Never a dull moment — even at the best of times.
Things, however, start getting really heated when the moment of truth looms. His school years are coming to an end and he's getting ready to go out and conquer the world. Existential questions like what to do with the rest of his life and where to do it are taking the joy out of our daily lives. Our suggestions are rejected outright the moment we utter them — we know nothing of the agony he goes through. When we tell him that he ought to be putting in more man-hours studying, the air becomes thick with hostility.
Try telling your self-important seventeen-year-old that you've been there and done that — and you'll wish you hadn't. Or when he sweats about his future, try comforting him with que sera, sera. He'll look down on you pityingly. "You don't understand, Mom. Things were different in the Stone Age!"
He has a point. Things were different back then — at least that's what I'd thought. The world had loomed larger back then, prior to it being tied up in knots by cable and the internet. Our personal worlds, though, were smaller and our choices, limited. We had to choose between being The Doctor, The Engineer, The Accountant, The Teacher and later on, The Manager. The more exotic ones became The Journalist or The Newsreader.
All those who didn't make it to these slots became The Clerk-Typist. Becoming The Star — whether singer or actor — was something that happened to other people, and was looked upon with awe.
It could just be the domino effect of the exposure they have through the media, or it could be that they are actually the evolved form of our primitive selves as my sons claim, but I find that the teenager today is way more capable and talented than we had been back then. I don't remember any fifteen-year-old school topper in my time who was at once a brilliant writer, completely clued in on nuclear fission and its possibilities, could play the piano like a pro and took keen interest in the environment as well as underprivileged children. And she is just one of the many exceptional teenagers I personally know of.
So much potential out there, and so many opportunities. You'd think life is easy for today's teenager.
Well, you'd have thought wrong. The choices in front of the average seventeen-year-old remain as limited as ever. I'm amazed at the levels of stress an average teenager takes in his/her stride, in order to gain entry into a respected college. He dashes from before-school classes to school, and from there to after-school classes until, at the end of the day, he crashes into bed too exhausted to sleep properly. He has to keep up with his peers, live up to the expectations of his parents and teachers, and live his own dreams… With about one professional college every hundred square mile or so in the world, becoming The Doctor, The Engineer or The Manager shouldn't have been the killer that it is.
It isn't any easier for the teenager whose dreams happen to be different either, as we've lived to learn. Since our seventeen-year-old decided to choose Product Design as his subject for undergraduate studies, we have been looking up all the options there are.
We find that despite the number of professional colleges out there, surprisingly few offer Applied Arts as a part of their curriculum — and barely a handful offers Product Design. Things aren't that different in the New Age, after all.
I wonder if it is because there is place in the world for only one artist — applied or otherwise — for about every thousand doctors, engineers, managers, accountants and teachers…
Well, someday, after my boys have conquered the world, I shall try bungee jumping. It can't be that scary after what I'm living through now!
— The author is an English languageteacher at Our Own English High School, Dubai.