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Who’s fooling who?


February 17, 2011
By Ian Robinson

Adolescence is a terrible thing.

Not for me, of course. As a teenager, I was a lovely and wonderful
young man of impeccable manners and demeanour. A positive delight to be
around. No shoulder-length hair and a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book in
the hip pocket of my ratty and patched jeans. No chip on my shoulder
the size and shape of a redwood.

Nossiree, Bob. Not me. And that smell in my room was incense, I swear.

Really. Incense.

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At least that’s the way I’m choosing to remember it.

But because my son is 13 now, I am reminded of the sad reality that teenagers gradually go through changes that are indistinguishable from insanity.

This is not as bad as it seems.

It’s not like kids are such a treat to start with.

The company of very small children is, I have always maintained, similar to hanging out with drunken midgets. Little kids are awesome because they’re so reckless.

If you don’t believe me, just hand a two-year-old a fork and turn them loose in a room with uncovered electrical outlets.

They’re short and they’re fearless.

“Hey! There’s some dirt! I’ve never seen dirt like that before! Let’s roll in it and eat some!”

And then there’s this beautiful period—say between the ages of 10 and the onset of puberty—where they seem to sober up and get sane.

It’s like they went into rehab or something and instead of dozing through all the sessions like Lindsay Lohan, they paid attention, took notes, and aced the final exam.

You can have real conversations with them on any number of topics, although discussions of how to survive the coming zombie apocalypse resurface with disturbing frequency.

They have mastered the concept of cause and effect (as in, if I roll in dirt I’ll get itchy and if I eat it I’ll puke), and can actually follow simple instructions.

 They still have that sense of wonder about the discovery of an amazing world, but the kamikaze impulse goes away.

And then, just as you get used to them acting like human beings instead of howler monkeys with an unlimited supply of cocaine…puberty.

The kamikaze instinct returns—in spades—but the worst thing about puberty is they start telling you the truth about things.

Well, not about all things. I mean, I’m still sticking to the incense story all these many years later.
But they start telling you the truth about their pre-pubescent years because they’ve figured out—accurately as it turns out—that nobody’s going to punish them for something they did when they were seven.

But that’s not the worst of their revelations.

This past Christmas, I got to reminiscing—OK, bragging—about how I was probably the best Christmas-season father ever, given that I had maintained my children’s faith in Santa years longer than the kids of my contemporaries.

I was the dad who made the effort. I dipped my winter Sorels in fireplace ash and then stomped to the Christmas tree and back to leave footprints…proof positive that Santa had come and gone. We live within a stone’s throw of Canada’s largest urban park, and it is populated by deer and coyote and, in the summertime, bear. On Christmas Eve, I would venture into the park where the deer yarded up, and fill a small, plastic grocery bag with frozen deer crap.

I would return home with it and leave a pile of it on the rug in front of the table where we left cookies for Santa and carrots for Rudolph.

On Christmas morning, I’d pretend to be annoyed by those “damned reindeer crapping all over the carpet.”

As I was bragging, my 13-year-old looked at me. Pityingly. If you’ve got a 13-year-old you’ve seen that look before. If you’ve got a 16-year-old, you see it every day.

“What?” I said. Dreading the answer.

Turns out he figured out there was no Santa when he was five. He’d asked me how many households there were in the city in which we live. I told him and he grabbed some crayons and some paper and did the math. Figured out that by budgeting five minutes to deliver per home, and even assuming zero travel time between houses, which was as much magic as he was willing to allow into the equation…there was no freaking way.

He took his calculations to his sister, who was herself 13 at the time. She advised him to keep his conclusions to himself.

“You believe in Santa, you get more presents,” she said. “Besides, Dad likes going down to the park on Christmas Eve to get the deer poop.”

“You started humouring me like a senile relative when you were five,” I said to him after he told me all this.

“Yep.”

“What else are you keeping from me?”

“Nuthin.”

“Yeah. Right,” I said. “And by the way, what’s that smell in your room?”

“Incense.”

I’m going to hate the next five years or so.