By NICK CHILES
It is something we parents can’t help. We look at our children, at their personality quirks and quivers, and we can’t help playing the game of projecting them into the future, like the sci-fi movie “Jumper.” What will she be like when she’s 30? How outgoing will he be when he’s 21? What kind of mother will she be at 35? Will he be able to survive in the workplace at 25?
If you are living in a household with growing girls, as we are, you sometimes scare yourself to death by asking, What will she be like as a teenager? In other words, Will my sweet little girl turn into a monster in just 4 or 5 years?
I was moved to do the Personality Projection Game recently because of changes I’ve noticed in my oldest. Changes to the good, in fact. Changes that hearten me as I look forward to going through teenhood two more times with the girls after the boy is on to college next year. When the boy was 13 and 14 and 15, I would mourn the loss of the personality he had possessed for most of the previous decade. Gone was the engaging, personable, funny, irrepressible little 6-year-old whose ebullient personality was so over the top, who was so outgoing and fun-loving that our neighbors on the block where we used to live in New Jersey took to calling him “The Mayor” because he wouldn’t hesitate to march up to any stranger and start the charm offensive. Back then when we did the Personality Projection, we easily imagined the boy as the first black president, or maybe a senator or CEO.
But then the early teen years came. They snatched the smiling social butterfly away in an instant and replaced him with Surly Boy. This kid was full of grunts and scowls and grimaces. Smiles were rationed like beef during wartime. He wasn’t a lot of fun to be around—which was on purpose, because he preferred to spend most of his time around his friends, anyway. During these years, I was afraid to even play the Projection Game—but when I slipped up and let my mind wander in that direction, I’d wind up pegging him as perhaps a future corrections officer (he's my boy, so I could never allow myself to think inmate).
Well, after those years of life with Surly Boy, I’m pleased to report a promising development: after the boy turned 16, we noticed glimmers of The Mayor returning. The sense of humor was back, as was the smile and the charm (sometimes). He didn’t even seem to mind spending time with the family. The Projections have started to get good again. Perhaps all will be right with the world, after all. Lesson learned? Perhaps we shouldn’t freak out too much about those early teen years. We should expect a (hopefully) brief invasion of the body snatcher, knowing that the sweetness will likely come back.
These are soothing thoughts as I notice the 10-year-old girl start throwing scowls around a little too much for our tastes. Uh oh, we can’t help but think. How bad is she going to be at 14? Will she even acknowledge our presence at 15?
And we remind ourselves: Trouble don’t last always.
About Our MBB Contributor:
Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of six books, and the editor-in-chief of the travel magazine, Odyssey Couleur.