It’s Teen Spirit’s wild years

for The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s hard to be a wild 17-year-old in a small apartment. Almost as hard as it is to live with a wild 17-year-old in a small apartment.

Sure, there’s no denying that New York City is a great place to bring up a teen. The kids can get around by themselves on the subway; and there are plenty of creative and cultural things to do.

But there are problems. Many.

First, there’s all the noise that a teenager makes. Especially when the 17-year-old year-old in question is a rock and roll musician, who likes to compose songs after midnight. Somehow he manages to forget that it’s verboten to strum and wail after 11 pm.

Space (and the lack of it) is another problem. A lanky six-footer takes up a lot of physical and psychic area, and Smartmom’s cozy 1,200-square-foot apartment just isn’t big enough to contain Teen Spirit’s adversarial energy and anti-authoritarian flair.

Then there are the obligatory fights. Who wants to have a high-volume yelling match with 17-year-old when all the neighbors can hear it?

Last year, Smartmom’s friend was having such a big fight with her teenage daughter that a neighbor buzzed up to say he was going to report her for child abuse.

When Smartmom and Hepcat first moved to Third Street, they figured they’d be living in a big brownstone or a suburban house by the time Teen Spirit was, say, 10. Surely by then he’d be too big for a tiny bedroom that was perfect for an IKEA-sized crib and a bookcase.

Well, as it turns out the family never moved into that brownstone. They stayed on Third Street, and Teen Spirit has survived in that small room. In fact, he loves his room even if it is so crowded that he has to keep his dresser in the hallway.

There are other ways, too, that wild teenage behavior doesn’t work in a small apartment.

Sleepovers. When Teen Spirit wants to have a gaggle of friends sleep over, there’s nowhere to put them. But that doesn’t mean the kids don’t want to be there. If it’s three or less, they like to sleep in the bed and on the floor of Teen Spirit’s teeny, tiny bedroom.

If there are more than three, they like to sleep in the living room (which is pretty tiny thanks to Hepcat’s home-office), where they sleep on the couch, the floor, the not-very-comfortable Eames Chair and the inflatable Aero mattress and occupy the living room for days on end.

When Teen Spirit wants to be really wild, he usually does it out of sight of Smartmom and Hepcat. But last week, he and some friends decided to use the outdoor space between their building and the one next door as a late night café for beer drinking and cigarette smoking.

Their crucial mistake was to not throw away even one of the 20 40-ounce beers they’d consumed. The neighbors were none too pleased at the sight of a bottle-strewn alleyway.

At first, Smartmom didn’t believe that her boy would do such a thing. When she confronted him, he denied it. But the next day Smartmom had an admission of guilt. She asked him why he lied to her.

“What kid wouldn’t lie about drinking beer in the backyard?” he said.

Ultimately the backyard got cleaned up, the beer bottles filled up the recycling bin and the chairs were returned to basement storage.

Smartmom hopes that’s the last of Teen Spirit using the alleyway as beer garden. Yet, it frightens her to think of the things he does out of her sight.

That’s the problem with bringing up a wild teen in an apartment. Because of the noise, the lack of space, and the fact that Smartmom and Hepcat respect the needs of their neighbors, Teen Spirit can’t get his ya-ya’s out under the watchful eye of his parents.

Hopefully, he’ll get them all out soon and move onto the next phase of his life (whatever that is) and Smartmom’s apartment will return to its usual benign chaos.

Who knew that Teen Spirit’s teen years would be this wild? Then again, who knew they’d still be in their small Park Slope apartment?

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 5:08 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

kelly from cobble hill says:
teen spirit has TEN guitars???
Aug. 12, 2008, 1:50 pm
TS from PS says:
Ten guitars?
The little trustafarian should devote his time and efforts to spread the wealth a bit. There are certainly some guitar-starved parts of Brooklyn that could certainly use a Les Paul or a Stratocaster. Just think of the emerging areas of Bushwick ... starved for guitars .. and those who come from a guitar culture like those in parts of Sunset Park would love to go electric.
Aug. 16, 2008, 1:56 pm
Alex from Park Slope says:
It might be different if he could actually play any of them...
Aug. 19, 2008, 9:05 am
christine from london UK says:
Thanks for the frank and honest experience of living with and parenting a teen.....We recently moved from a large house out of town into a very small apartment in central London, due to personal circumstances. The experience has taught our kids and ourselves the meaning of grace and love...In a large space it was so easy to blame each other for the trials of life, the lack of space, lack of opportunity, respect etc and then retreat to different spaces, involve ourselves in other activities and generally ignore the issues. All habits that my partner and i learned as teens.

The small space has allowed my 15 years old and 5 year old to really feel the blessings they bring to one another. My partner and I have grown to forgive and respect our differences.

Has it been easy? No, has it been fun? Yes, have our girls grown in spirit and soul? Yes.

Last week i asked them both if they wanted us to move into a more spacious apartment. The 15 year old explained that she would love the idea of more space but she would miss the closeness of our family. I feel blessed that we have had this opportunity to really face life in our small space. if it had been suggested to me that this would be the outcome, i doubt if i would have perceived it. All of us have "grown up" and now have some skills to express ourselves individually while sharing. The wild teen years have only begun for us but i look forward with trepidation and awe at how we all evolve and develop, as people and communities. again many thanks for your letter.
Sept. 9, 2008, 8:27 am

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