On my way to my bedroom late one night, I saw the familiar sliver of light coming from my son’s room. Burning the midnight oil again, I thought. When I cracked the door open, I found him hunched over his computer, eyes bloodshot and tired, furiously typing on the keyboard. I ruffled his curls and told him he needed to go to bed.
“It’s late, son. There’s always tomorrow,” I said, gently.
“Mah, it never ends,” he said. He told me he had an hour to go before his assignment was due at midnight and he had a few more edits and rewrites on his English paper. He promised to go to bed as soon as he could and I sighed.
High school was so much easier when I was a teenager.
I graduated from high school in the mid 90s, during a time when the Backstreet Boys sang about wanting things their way and Britney Spears challenged us to hit her one more time.
Baby doll dresses were paired with construction boots and stirrup pants swam underneath oversized Benetton sweaters. Love’s Baby Soft perfume and Aquanet permeated the air of the girl’s locker room and we were obsessed with Brenda and Dylan on Beverly Hills, 90210.
Life was simpler back then.
And it makes me wistful for my teens.
My teens will never know the agony of having to sit by the phone waiting for a crush to finally call. And the panic of picking up the phone, not knowing who was on the other end.
They’ll never know the agony of having to wait impatiently by the radio to hit “record” so you could make your best friend a mix tape.
In the immortal words of the Full House intro, “Whatever happened to predictability, the milkman, the paperboy, evening TV?”
When did life get so hard and stressful for our teens?
Nowadays, it’s texts and snaps and instant messaging. And iTunes. And Venmo. Binging doesn’t mean sharing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s while yapping to your best friend on your private landline that your parents finally installed in your room.
No one wears construction boots, but I think we can all agree that’s not such a bad thing, right?
Watching my son struggle with stress and anxiety made me realize that going to high school in the 90s was a completely different experience.
If you forgot your homework, you were screwed. There were no online textbooks and, if the night janitor didn’t hear you banging on the gym door to let you in, you had to wait until the morning to retrieve it from your locker.
You could play sports and have a social life. Sports and activities weren’t all or nothing commitments and you had plenty of time to hang out at the local diner on a Friday night.
Snapchat was “Check Yes Or No” notes slipped to you during second period. And you prayed your name wasn’t listed on the “Worst Dressed” page in the slam book.
Everyone drove crappy cars and no one ever had any money. You were just grateful that you could pay someone with a radio and four bald tires $5 to take you to the football game.
Your choices of prom gowns were limited to what you could find at the local mall or boutique in town. Unless your mom took you on a special trip to the fancy mall an hour away, you chose the teal taffeta dress that was on clearance at Macy’s and the faux diamond jewelry from Claire’s Boutique like everyone else.
My teens will never smell Liz Claiborne perfume or Drakkar Noir cologne. Or Juniper Breezes lotion from Bath and Body Works.
Everyone wore Keds with slouch socks and carried JanSport backpacks filled with actual textbooks. No one had Chrome books and iPhones and expensive noise reduction headphones with Bluetooth. We had Walkmen that were the size of toasters and CD players that made us look like we were carrying salad plates on our waists.
My teens will never know what a cliffhanger is or the pain of having to wait until September to find out if Ross and Rachel had really broken up. We had “premiere weeks” and after school specials. We had Uncle Jesse smirking “Mercy!” on Full House and Steve Urkel whining “Did I do that?” on Family Matters. And admit it: you did the Balky Bartokomous “Dance of Joy” when you realized you passed your Chemistry final, didn’t you?
Our school day wasn’t an all-inclusive, 24/7 experience. When you went home from school, so did your teacher. You did homework at night with The Cure playing in the background and you turned it in the next day at school. We didn’t have to worry about meeting a deadline at midnight because a computer program made it so you could never turn off your day.
We drank Clearly Canadian sparkling water from the gas station mini mart and drove around with the windows down with our friends and no sense of time or urgency.
We’d never heard the words “tweet” or “Google” or “selfie.” The only Facebook we had was our yearbooks filled with pictures of our actual faces. And we wrote things like “LYLAS!” and “Stay sweet, don’t ever change!” across our friends’ faces.
A good Friday night was diner food and friends. A great Friday night was sipping soda in the car while you waited for the one-hour photo mat to develop the pictures you’d taken from an instant camera. And realizing that you caught a moment where you and your friends were all looking at the camera at the same time. Smiles wide, foreheads wrinkle free and jacked to Jesus hair blowing in the wind.
Sometimes, I wish I could make life easier for my teens, that I could somehow unleash some 90s magic into their teen years.
At the very least, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want: for my teens to enjoy their high school years as much as I did.