I like to think that I’m one of those progressive moms. You know, the kind that’s with it, hip, sick, or whatever the current phrase is in the adolescent vernacular. I remember being a teenager and I understand. The decade prior to my twenties was an era of incredible discovery and growth. It was a time to abandon the accoutrements of childhood and head out into the adult world to seek out my fullest potential.
As the mother of three teenagers, I understand where they’re headed. So when my daughter yells at me and calls me the most evil mom in the world because I refuse to shell out $200 for a pair of ripped jeans that she just has to have, I get it. I don’t like it, but I understand her desire to fit in. And yet, there’s one aspect of the adolescent psyche that leaves me hopelessly baffled: why do teenagers insist on living like troglodytes?
Like many family homes in our suburban neighborhood, we have a finished basement with tiled floors, a bathroom, a large flat screen television, a wet bar—and a spare bedroom.
We originally installed the extra bedroom to accommodate the visiting friends and relatives who visited during the holidays or special occasions. But as time passed, that room became the major focus of contention between my sons.
When our oldest son Kevin returned home after a stint of independent living, the first thing he did was lug his possessions to the basement bedroom. By then his younger brother was already settled quite comfortably in that room, with posters of Katy Perry, Halo 3 and World of Warcraft. His furniture, bass and amp, and computer were nestled in their places. He stated he wasn’t going anywhere with such stubborn passive resistance it would have made Ghandi proud.
The resulting conflict rivaled World War II. I tried to as best I could, though I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live in a stuffy windowless underground room. Especially when the available bedroom upstairs was more spacious and had a bay window overlooking the garden. Kevin felt entitled to the basement, playing the “I’m the oldest so I get first dibs” card. His younger brother Eric countered with the “you snooze, you lose” argument. His brother had moved out, leaving the basement room fair game for anyone who wanted to claim it.
Eventually, I settled the argument. Moving Eric’s things out of the basement would be too much trouble. And since Kevin was pretty much living out of a gym bag, he could be content with the bedroom upstairs. Begrudgingly, Kevin huffed and puffed his way up the stairs and settled into the guest room. He drew the shades and dimmed the lights so the room resembled the entrance to a cave.
A few years have passed. They’re still in their places: one in the basement and one in an upstairs cavern, both huddling in the dark. I look forward to the day when the two brothers emerge, bleary-eyed and pasty-faced, from their self-imposed segregation. I worry that they are not prepared for the challenges of the real world, having hunkered down in darkened exile for so long. But then I look around at some friends from my own teenage years. Friends who lived in unfinished basement rooms without proper drywall or a decent floor, with the hot water heater and furnace rumbling in the corner. And I’m comforted by the fact that they turned out just fine.