A star forms when vast, murky clouds of carbon dust and hydrogen collapse with enough energy to start a nuclear explosion.
This is a lot like what happens with teenagers.
As parents we expend a good deal of energy helping our young nebulae expand into the universe. First we help them understand the difference between hot and cold and hard and soft in the physical world around them. Usually when we are not paying attention. Usually with the help of Band-Aids.
Next we gradually help them to expand their consciousness into the more hazy universe filled with subjective matter like right and wrong and good and bad and YouTube. As growing clouds of gas and space dust they fill into the space around them and learn to verbalize all that they see and hear and feel.
And then, somewhere in the early teenage years, as their dust pulls inward under the influence of its own gravity, we are unable to help them with anything. They become unaware of the vast universe around them and communication with the outside world is reduced to a single word: Huh?
My teenage son sits slumped into the seat of a bus intently plying the buttons of his cell phone. His long legs are extended into the aisle. The gap between his pants and his untied gym shoes reveal a long stretch of boyish white skin. Boarding passengers are carefully stepping over his feet in search of an open seat.
"Move your feet so people can get by," I tell him. Huh? he says.
At night, just before bed, he tells me he needs a large piece of poster board to complete a science project. "No problem," I tell him. "When do you need it?" He seems surprised by my question, as if the answer were obvious. Huh? he says. His project is due the next day.
Opening the refrigerator I notice an empty carton of milk I ask him why he put the container back if it is empty. Huh? he says. He is not even aware that he is drinking a glass of milk.
In the car I ask him who he is hanging out with. "Friends." he tells me. "Do they have names?" I ask. I worry that he actually may not know. Huh? he says. I am too late; he is preoccupied changing the radio station.
My son is fourteen. His rapidly growing frame is connected by neurons that are desperately trying to keep up. The pathways haven't quite reached his feet or his hands, which often become weapons of mass destruction when ever he performs simple tasks. Like walking. Or eating.
I no longer know exactly what is happening in his head. He makes it a point to keep me far from his igniting core. Answers are vague and cryptic. Doors close and sometimes slam. He is struggling to ignite.
It takes a lot of milk to fuel nuclear fusion. And hamburgers. And sleep. I make sure he has enough. And I watch him from a distance, making sure I don't get radiation sickness.
I remember being his age once, though not very well. I don't think I just re-joined the world one day with hair in unexpected places. Or maybe I did. I can't be sure. There is a fog of dust and gas that still lingers in my consciousness. But I am pretty sure I did emerge.
As an adult my awareness is much greater now and, like an aging star, it expands as I grow older. I am aware of being aware. I am even aware of not being aware. This is particular true when my wife points out that slugging down orange juice straight from the carton is not acceptable behavior or that I have neglected to give her anything on our anniversary. Huh? I say, cloaking my awareness with a protective layer of teenage obtuseness.
My daughter is crying. Her teenage brother has just thumped her on the head by for no apparent reason. His explanation is simple: she is annoying. I have a younger sister and I remember what it was like. So I take him aside to talk. "You are a lot stronger now," I caution him. "You can easily hurt her."
Huh? he says, but I can tell he is secretly pleased by this turn of events. He is now hiding his lack of awareness by choice.
And then one day he sees me working around the house. I am lifting heavy boxes and grunting. No one is around. I am startled by his voice, which seems lower than usual. "Can I help, Dad?" he asks.
I blink. It's a little thing. Like a new star twinkling faintly from the depths of the universe.
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