When my son talks about teenagers, he has these really specific fantasies about what they’re like. Really specific fantasies. Really, very specific. He always kind of reminds me of a right-wing American talking about Muslim fundamentalists – there’s this fear mixed with awe mixed with paranoia mixed with respect mixed with distrust mixed with envy. That’s what he sounds like.
So, the other day, I came in late from a gig and I fell into bed and went to sleep. I didn’t have time for a wash, I was simply too knackered – and I’d been sweating on stage, so I really stank, you know. I stank like an old dog on the U-Bahn.
And then, in the morning, my son woke me up and he said: “Mum, can I tell you something? You smell funny.”
I said: “I smell funny? Funny how?”
“Kind of bad.”
“Kind of bad?”
“Kind of bad like how?”
“Well,” he hesitated for a moment, and then he said, in a really polite tone of voice: “You smell a bit like shit.”
Despite the really polite tone of voice, I felt like I had to reprimand him for the swearing. So I said, sternly: “Rico.” With an emphasis on the O.
“What?” He asked innocently. “I’m just telling the truth.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “But you shouldn’t say ‘shit’. ‘Shit’ is a bad word.”
He sniffed nonchalantly. “Oh, actually, Mum,” he said, “actually, I’m old enough to swear now – now I’m in third grade.”
“You are?” I wrinkled my head in doubt and confusion. Was this some kind of German Erziehungstipp that had passed me by? “Who says so? Do the Erziehers in Hort say so?”
“No, I just know it. Because I’m pracklickly a teenager and teenagers always swear. Teenagers always say everything’s shit. Like, you know teenagers? They never drink water. If their mum gives them some water to drink, they say: ‘I don’t want to drink this shit water.’ You know what they like to drink?”
“Yeah. And when their mums give them some Coca-Cola to drink, they don’t even say ‘thank you’. They don’t have any manners. Teenagers hate having to have manners.”
“Yeah. And they never brush their teeth. They hate brushing their teeth.”
“I always brushed my teeth when I was a teenager. I had to. I had a brace. If you don’t brush your teeth when you have a brace, they’ll turn black and fall right out.”
“Actually, Mum, I think when you were young it was the Olden Days and teenagers weren’t properly like teenagers yet. But nowadays teenagers never brush their teeth. And they never do their homework. If someone tries to get them to do their homework, they say: ‘No, this is shit.’”
“That’s what they say?”
“Yeah, you know what teenagers are like.”
“No, tell me more.”
“Well, they all play the guitars or the drums and some of them drink beer when their mums and dads aren’t looking. Some of them even smoke cigarettes. And they never go to bed until midnight. And they hate museums. If you took a teenager to a really good museum – like, if you took a teenager to the Naturkundemuseum, they wouldn’t even like it. They’d say, ‘This is shit.’ Actually, they might even say ‘fucking’, Mum. I’m not saying ‘fucking’ now, Mum – well, I am, but just to explain to you about the teenagers. But I’m only in the third grade. I’m only allowed to say ‘shit’. But a teenager, when they go to the Naturkundemuseum, they just look at the dinosaurs and they say: ‘These dinosaurs are fucking shit.’ That’s what teenagers say when they see dinosaurs, Mum.”
“It sounds awful.”
Rico nodded his head gravely.
“And,” he announced importantly, “and they don’t love their mums.”
“No. They hate their mums. Well, some of them hate their mums and some just don’t like them much. But I will probably hate you, Mum. Don’t be angry at me now, it’s not my fault. But in the future, when I’m a teenager, I will probably hate you.”
“Yeah. And I won’t want to kiss and cuddle you. If you try to kiss me, I’ll move away, really quickly, so you won’t be able to.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Well, can I have a kiss and cuddle now, to make up for all the ones I’m not gonna get when you’re a teenager?”
He jumped into my arms then and gave me a big sloppy kiss on my left cheek.
“I’m happy I’m not a teenager yet and I still love you, Mum.”
“Yeah, so am I,” I answered.
“You really do smell of shit, though,” he added, thoughtfully. “I think you should have a bath.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Okay, I will.”