By Ana Veciana-Suarez

Parenting, my husband tells anyone who will listen, is the last stand of the amateur.

This rings particularly true when children pass through the fun house known as adolescence. No matter how patient or strict or understanding parents try to be, the teenage years test our mettle and our sanity. We're suddenly stupid beyond our years, an embarrassment to the family.

Note here: I know I will receive letters from parents whose teens sailed through this stage with nary a problem. No pierced noses, no dyed hair, no experimental sex, no drug habit, no broken curfews, no sullenness or rebellion. Good for you. Chalk it up to karma, good luck or God's blessing.

I, on the other hand, think of the teens (and the early 20s) as the lost years. Or the Alien Era. This is the period in our children's lives when hostile spirits inhabit their bodies. They become something other than themselves.

Actually, so do we. We turn into our parents.

I've been thinking about this stage of development because my youngest is in the throes of raging hormones, chronic mood swings and acute back-talking. Of my five children, he is, by far, the sweetest, gentlest and happiest of the lot. As a baby, we nicknamed him Mr. Smiley because he navigated the tribulations of childhood with a winsome grin.

I thought I would be spared a final roller-coaster ride. Yeah, right.

His journey into early adulthood coincides with my twin granddaughters' Terrible Twos, a phase that serves as a tutorial for the teenage years. The other day, I had barely walked through the door when a stern-faced Ava confronted me in the hallway.

"No!" she shouted, pudgy hands flailing. "No! No! No!"

I had not a clue what she was no-ing me about, but I shuddered in recognition. "Get ready," I wanted to shout at my son. "This is just a preview."

A few days ago, I heard a Harvard pediatric neurologist talk about how the erratic behavior of two teenage sons prompted her to study adolescent brain development. Her conclusion: It's not what teens think but "how" they think that may explain their transformation.

Basically, the parts of the brain that enable judgment are the last to be wired. Hence, teens' surly, impetuous and self-centered behavior.

I'm not surprised. Other researchers poking around teens' gray mass have reached similar conclusions. Yet, in my case it's not science but personal experience that has enabled me to survive the trying years. Teenagers do grow out of this. They do, they do. My older children have taught me that.

I know that eventually my real son will return, but only after I've paid a ransom of heartache. One day, he'll call just to say hello. We will share, not argue. When he hangs up, I'll stare at the phone as if it had a life of its own.

Those calls will develop into requests for advice. About work. About love. About money. I'll swoon with delight.

That's when I'll drop the amateur status. Suddenly and once again, I'll be wise.


Parenting - My Teenagers are Testing My Patience