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The A to Z's of Teenagers: D Is for Drama

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A guy at the gym I work out at—a big, burly guy—came into the weight room yesterday wearing an XXL blazingly yellow T-shirt that announced, in 2-inch-high letters, SAVE THE DRAMA FOR YOUR MAMA. In between bench presses (him) and triceps kickbacks (me), we shared stories about teen drama.

OK, I shared stories. He grunted and occasionally nodded with that particular combination of pity and cluelessness that I see on my husband's face when I recount the roller-coaster ride my daughter and I have been on through her teen years. This high-stakes drama began when she turned 10, signaling the end to that golden era, that magic first decade when mommy is a saint and a genius, beautiful and beneficent, the font of everything cool and fun.

Since then, not so much. In the ensuing years, I have apparently become infinitely less saintly, kinda' dumb and not at all cool. Since then we have "issues." Since then, there is drama.

RELATED: The A to Z's of Teenagers: B Is for Boys

Lizzie can regale you with tales of the drama inherent in a teen girl's life. Been there. Done that. Done with that. Here I'm talking about the drama of the mother-daughter relationship: that joyful, painful, hot, cold, ying, yang, dizzying, tumultuous blend of intense bonding and icy distance, long hugs and exasperated eye rolls, deeply shared moments and stone-cold silences, glorious sun and ferocious storms. The random acts of kindness. The random acts of meanness.

This drama my daughter and I enact most every day is an action-packed, dialog-rich story of conflict and emotion. It is loaded. It is fraught. Psychologists say the connection between a mother and a daughter is the single most important relationship in a woman's life, the one relationship that can affect every subsequent intimate bond in a young woman's life. Yikes. No wonder it's so much work. No wonder it's simultaneously the best and the worst thing happening in my life.

My husband has a mystifyingly—and annoyingly—comfortable relationship with my daughter. They don’t fight. When he talks to her, his words are all text, no subtext. Mine, on the other hand, drip subtext. Sometimes they are all subtext. Here's how I make sense of that: He doesn't see himself in her. He doesn't see his own teenage years being played out in her life. He doesn't—can't—resonate to her issues. He sees her at a remove: a girl. She is what she is. And she doesn't see herself in him. He is not her future. I, on the other hand, might be. I'm the yardstick. I'm the one she needs to push against.

Of course she saves the drama for her mama.

It's about trying to make your life seem more interesting than maybe it is.

And now, a word from the teenage daughter:

I am so anti-drama. In middle school it was all about girls telling secrets and talking about people behind their backs. You know, hallway whispers and giggles. In high school, it was all about, you guessed it, telling secrets and talking about people behind their backs. Maybe the topics changed. In middle school it was gossiping about some girl's wardrobe "issues" or how she wore so much makeup she looked like she could make a living on the streets. In high school it was about boys and who did what (or didn't do what) with (to) whom. At parties, the drama-talk is about boys, generally bad boys and just how bad they are, but also about school. (Like this: Oh my god. Like I stayed up till 4 studying for this exam. I'm so gonna flunk this class if I don't pass the test.)

Just shut up already.

I mean there's a lot of talk but no one actually tries to solve a problem. They're not interested in solving a problem. They just want to talk. And talk. I have this friend who constantly complains about her slacker boyfriend, about how he misses classes and sleeps all the time and doesn't pay attention to her. OK then, drop the dude. Move on. Why are you still talking about it?

Oh, I know! Because it makes for good drama. Here's what I think is going on. All this drama is about making yourself seem important or making someone else seem lame. It's about getting attention and making sure the spotlight is on you. It's about trying to make your life seem more interesting than maybe it is; taking a simple problem and making it seem huge. About getting sympathy.

RELATED: The A to Z's of Parenting: C is for Coffee

This might sound like I just figured this out after all these years, but actually I've felt like this since as long as I can remember. I think that's why I've mostly hung out with boys since middle school. They're just less dramatic with each other. They don't really talk about topics that lead to drama. Instead they talk about video games or movies or music. They don't talk about themselves so much, they talk about what they do. And guys seem to be OK with silence, just sitting next to each other, controllers in hand. Quiet. With girls there's never silence. I know this sounds like a stereotype. But, guess what? It's real.

My mom says that girls are the meanest they will ever be when they're teenagers. I hope so. They make movies about this stuff, comedies, but the mean girls thing is really not funny. My mom has some good female friends that she hangs out with. Maybe that will happen to me someday.

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