Every day calls for improvising and offers hope of new ideas, but sometimes it’s clear the whole plan has to change.

My appeals for hope can get on some nerves around here. We all get through our day with whatever mind tricks and strategies work: pessimism, realism, optimism, denial. It’s often how we get from one moment to the next. “Things will be ok” and “things are looking up” help me over the hump, but I understand it can be grating to a spouse who’s thinking “this is worse than ever and we’ve got to get through it.” Both can be true. Both are most certainly true. 

So I can report from multiple sources that while parenting a teen will hopefully turn out ok, it’s definitely a whole new ballgame around here.

Part of the shock is that while we were headed deep in teen territory when the pandemic hit, the disruptions of a global health crisis have taken center stage for me. Now that the first glimmers of a post-Covid life start to emerge, it’s clear we’re in a whole new phase.

Glimmers first: a getaway to the coast, in a hotel we love with a pool by the beach. A favorite in the before times. Our first trip back was hardly back to normal, as distancing, masks, occupancy limits, and other safety measures were (thankfully) prominent. But you can still get a margarita at the pool, and I’m convinced a lot of our day-to-day is memory based anyway. We’ve had fun here, we’re here, this must be fun. It was, more or less, fun. Between the worrying about staying safe, not letting anyone get too hungry/grumpy, and keeping things rolling.

But our teen has a whole new playbook. Early on the angst was just below the surface, and would spill over into yelling or tears with hair-trigger ease. Used to be that “Can you not hear me, I TOLD you this already!” was a good time to see if there’s work to do on a mental shopping list, because you’d have a few minutes of venting during which you can compose your face, look neutral, and think your own thoughts. But so far the post-Covid teen has mastered that seething angst, and turned it to a white-hot laser-focused silent treatment, complete with withering stare. I guess she realized of all my buttons the abandoned feeling I get when being purposefully, ruthlessly ignored is the most satisfactory. 

Luckily, if fatherhood has taught me one thing, it’s that I can have my buttons endlessly and excruciatingly pushed quite often and know that I will live. I guess that’s when they head out for new territory, when I get control of the old buttons they were working.

A silent, glaring teen has benefits. The chances of a scene in public are much much less, or the one yelling will be me and not her. That gives embarrassed-by-scenes me a leg up.

But it’s new days with this still, both going anywhere and the silent treatment, so I still find myself flummoxed, surprised, hurt. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel some sympathy for her going through it. My vague memories of that age and her obviously pained manner are a reminder that she’s not having fun with this either. 

So it’s new dad times over here. You can pout all the way to the beach and refuse every kindness I offer, but I am not taking the bait. The sun is warm, the breeze is cool, we’re spending a zillion on hotel food, and I am going to get through this. Things will be ok. In fact, I think things are looking up.