Last night, I went from a full, deep sleep to a full awake—heart pounding, shallow breathing. I laid in bed, mentally pacing, replaying my dream to try to understand why it scared me so much.

I am a vivid dreamer. My dreams are not dreams. They are action movies. I’m convinced sometimes that if you could transfer my dreams to films and round out the fragments of stories I get to witness, I would be standing on the red carpet someday, trying not to fall while attempting that legs crossed, arm on the hip pose they all do in a stylish dress someone else has chosen for me. No one would be taking my picture, though, because I am not the main actor of my movie dreams. I am always following the action, shot for shot. My figment actors, who are almost always people I do not know, give incredible performances. Although I do not remember their faces when I wake up, I remember what they felt. I believe them. They make me feel things.

Last night’s dream baffled me. No one likes a story that begins, “Let me tell you about my dream last night,” so I will try to keep this brief. I will give you only the facts you need to know. I was in a beautiful pool that was set between several tall buildings. It was vacation weather, and a friend and I were enjoying it thoroughly. We were hanging onto the ledge of the deep end. We were in our late teens, and we were doing what care-free people of that age do—chatting, soaking up life. Then suddenly, a splash right next to us, right into the deep end. Someone had jumped from the roof of the nearest building into the pool. It was someone from our group. And we are talking a 40 or 50 foot jump, with a distance the leaper has to jump out to make it into the water. He had landed so close to the edge, but he had made the leap and popped up with a smile. Then, a few seconds later, the next person hit the water right where I had been a moment before. At this point, I decided to get out of the pool—the near miss had frightened me. I wasn’t ready to either be landed on, or to see someone not make the jump entirely.

More people from our group started jumping, joining the adventure and fun. And then it happened. Someone didn’t quite get out far enough and their feet hit the ground with a sickening crack. But this isn’t what woke me up with a start. I went to check on this person, to see if she was okay. She was fine. Her legs were clearly broke, but she had made it. What woke me up was this—as spoke with her, I noticed the party had not ended. The stupid kids I was with still thought it would be fun to jump. They would surely make it. They continued to take turns, splashing into the water one after another, as I sat next to the one who didn’t.

I read an article the other day about how teenage brains are wired. It talked about the physical reasons teenagers are more impulsive, less likely to think things through, and even more so when they are in the presence of other teens. It talked about how their frontal lobes are not fully developed, and that combined with all the hormones, this makes them into the unruly, adventurous, occasionally stupidly impulsive creatures they are.

For several years after college, I was a youth leader—so I would have to add to the above idea that this perhaps is what makes them some of the most interesting, creative, bursting with life humans that exist. They have so much vigor for life—so many questions. Occasionally some brilliance can burst through all of that crazy, raging impulsiveness. There is something refreshing about living so big, feeling so much, seeing life through the eyes of someone who places magnitude on everything that happens. The teens I knew in my 20s changed my life.

But I noticed the other day, that as a parent, I have lost all my cool in the presence of teenagers. I drive my kids to school and our path takes us by the nearby high school. Our unfortunate timing has us passing the school right when a gym class uses the crosswalk. I always crawl up to the walk and wait for these clumps of youth to cross safely. I internally shake my fist at them, though, because they walk slow. They look forward. They do not acknowledge that I might have somewhere to be—that I am doing them a kindness by taking great care to let them all pass. They do not acknowledge that I am there—that I am human. A little wave or head nod would do wonders.

This feeling in me bothered me some—am I asking too much? Have I become an old man curmudgeon, shaking my head at these kids? Am I one step away from shouting out the window, “Ahhh, youth is wasted on the wrong people!”? But then about a month into the school year, in my waiting I saw a few girls step out on the street without looking and nearly being taken out by a van approaching from the other direction. The girls jumped back and the van drove on (who was this person driving a van in a school zone with so little caution?) and one of the girls threw up a hand in the van’s direction and said, “Whoa!” with an attitude that made her moments-ago-nearly-dead friends giggle. They continued moping across in front of me (and I was late now by a minute or two for preschool drop off), and she decided to pull her comedy routine again. For the first time in my weeks of waiting for these kids to cross, I was acknowledged. She stopped in the middle of the street, threw her hand up at late, cautious, stopped-for-five-minutes-already me, locked eyes with me, and said, “Whoa!” I did not laugh. In my imagination, I floored the gas.

Yesterday, the day leading up to my dream, I walked with my kids to town. School had just released. The sidewalks in town were covered with crowds of kids who were embracing the freedom of being just old enough that their parents let them hang out in our cute little town after school. On weekdays in town for a few hours after school releases, a police officer walks the sidewalk, and the kids go in and out of the candy store, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks. They laugh, and chat (and loiter says the angry old man in me as I try to squeeze through). After “excuse me”-ing our way through, we had to pass the high school. “This will be your school one day,” I told Wally and Vivvi. “When?” Wally asked. I calculated: “In about 9 years.”

The rest of the walk, I was floored. How could it be that in less than a decade, I will have a high schooler? How could it be single digits in years away? It seems farther when I imagine my life, kid-free 9 years ago. But at the same time, how could it be so close? Is it enough time? Enough time to keep them from being the one who says “Whoa!” at the mom who is waiting for them to cross the street? Enough time to keep them from jumping off the building into the pool? And especially, enough time to keep them from jumping, even after seeing someone else miss?

And now I know why I couldn’t sleep after that dream—why it is my nightmare. It has occurred to me that we are not just raising kids. We are raising future teenagers. We are raising future college students, future adults. We are raising the future. And it is terrifying.

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