17 Again

First of all, I don’t want to be 17 again, not for anything. Okay, maybe for one evening, knowing what I know now, it might be fun to go back, and that’s one of the things I loved about the new movie, “17 Again.” The idea that a person could re-enter the adolescent world and yet be as smart as a person twenty years older–

But wait.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a long time, you will know why teen pregnancy makes this story more complicated for me. My birth mother was just a little older than the parents in the movie, at the end of her freshman year of college when she became pregnant. Her story–well, it’s her story, and not mine to tell here.

Let me just say I had a fantasy about my birth parents that began like that of the couple in the movie. I imagined high school sweethearts, too young to marry, giving in to the desires of their parents.

Later, in high school myself, as part of a theatre group writing a One Act for competition, I explored the idea of a girl who gave up a child for adoption, a good student, in love with a boy who had an athletic scholarship to college, a boy who broke her heart when he did what his parents wanted and broke up with her.

Parents mattered to me a lot, so it’s interesting to me that the teen parents in this case did not consult their parents at all. The young father committed to the young mother, twirled her around romantically and off they went.

To be miserable together.

Then to figure out they would be miserable apart.

I appreciated the young again dad’s efforts to discourage his own daughter’s classmates from having sex, but I found it discouraging that this movie, one which will be seen by lots of young girls who love Zac Efron, did not name any other options beyond teen marriage and parenthood.

I guess that wasn’t the point. But these things are on my mind. There are other choices. You don’t have to have unsafe sex. And even if you do, you don’t have to get married because you get pregnant. You don’t have to push aside all possibilities for yourself in order to raise a child, when you are still a child yourself.

And a boy, no matter how pretty, may not be the answer to everything, whether he’s 17 or 37.

My 13-year-old, who is smart, thinks I should not be worried that girls will get the wrong idea from the movie, because at the beginning the parents are both miserable. I suppose that might be the takeaway; only through magical intervention in the person of Brian Doyle-Murray did they figure out they had what mattered.

But I still want to write these things.

My story began with being given away to parents who were already 37, taking an approximate average of their ages, parents who had everything except a child, who had everything except the ability to become biological parents. I’m formed as much by their nurture, the noble and stable as well as the eccentric and neurotic, as by the nature of the young people who made me physically. From the latter I received a slight gap between my front teeth and big brown eyes and hair that curled late and fair skin that burns easily except on the front of my legs. But from my parents I learned about Jesus and Benny Goodman and Louisa May Alcott and which fork to use and how to introduce people to one another in social situations and when to pick up the check and how to say what needs to be said in the nicest possible way without sounding the least bit like a pushover or a steamroller, either.

If I could be 17 again, I would like to see the boy who took me to my Senior Prom, one more time, to figure out if he really was as nice as I remember. I would like to be in my young body and sing with my whole voice, playing Lucy opposite his Charlie Brown. But I might discover that my version of that story, one that ended a few years later when he, under pressure from his father, decided to “date around,” is just as artifically sweetened as the fantasies I had about my birth parents, whose imagined heartbreaks made me want to be as good as I could be, to avoid their imagined sad fate.

The truth is seldom as romantically lit as a movie.

Now that I am 47, a whole 30 years past 17, my parents seem more human to me. I have more patience with their foibles, more appreciation for their graces, more nostalgia for our time together. I’ve always known in my head that I landed in a good situation, but there’s something about being where and who I am now that finally allows me to know it in my heart.

I really wouldn’t want to be 17 again.

8 thoughts on “17 Again”

  1. lots to think about from this movie. I don’t think I would want to be 17 again either, for some different reasons, I think.
    you offer a lot of good reflection on what it means to be a teenager, and all the places your own life came from….

  2. Been wondering how this movie will be perceived (like Juno?)
    I’d like to be 17 again if you promise me I can skip all the stooopid things I did in college the first time around…

  3. What a good reflection.
    I’ve always thought it would be nice if I could plateau around the mid-20’s (age-wise, not growth-wise). Sigh.

  4. Haven’t seen the movie. Wouldn’t be 17 again for anything. But I’m glad you saw the movie and shared your own–and your child’s–opinions.
    More than that, I appreciate your words about adoption and your gradual understanding/appreciation for the gifts and realities that shaped your “once wild and precious life.”
    I have two sisters adopted from Korea and a brother adopted from Taiwan. Two of them have actually met and spent time with their birth-families, but one of my sisters never will. These three struggles to reconcile history and identity will never leave me & never stop shaping my life, despite my identity as one of my parents’ two biological children.
    Their greatest gift has been to develop, in me, a fiercely strong sense that “family” is something much, much greater, more flexible and powerful, than any mere biological connection.
    P.S. About your parents teaching you how to say what needs to be said… I am so, so jealous of that!

  5. I, too, wouldn’t be 17 again for anything. Wouldn’t mind having the body I had when I was 19, mind! As in a very few short weeks I shall no longer be able to deny that I am nearer 60 than 50…. my mother says if I think mid-50s sucks, “then just wait until you’re 80!”

  6. I could be 17 again. I’d tread my Dad with more appreciation (he died when I was 18).
    I’d take my college fund and sink it into a new company called Microsoft. After becoming wealthy, I’d migrate to Michigan and find my present wife (whom I’d need to marry in any scenario) and live happily ever after.
    The End.

  7. I haven’t seen the movie. Seventeen was quite possibly the worst age of my life, at least as I remember it. (Long story, no need to tell it here.) My misery was compounded by the fact that Janis Ian’s morose song “17” was a hit that very same year. Sigh.
    You could offer to make me independently wealthy for the rest of my life, and I wouldn’t go back there.

  8. I haven’t seen the movie either. I recall my mom telling me when I was 17 that this should be the best time of my life! (Seventeen really was the best time of her life–it was all downhill for her from there.) When I heard that, I thought, “If this is the best, I should end it all now.” I was an utterly morose teen. Absolutely would not do that again.

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