Even more to-the-point, let us recall sometimes-ninja Cato, Inspector Clouseau's karate-chopping manservant, hired to keep the good inspector vigilant. Cato's stealthy and unexpected attacks underscore the power of surprise.
As our teenagers seek space, distance, secrecy, privacy and way less time with us, sometimes a surprise attack is the only shot we have at getting through to them.
The teenage-ambush takes many forms, of course, including showing up in unexpected places and staging hand-checks in basements full of mixed company. There is one element of surprise, however, parents tend to overlook. And it's the best one, because it can be so much fun.
Reveal Your Hidden Talents. I have seen it again and again: parents I admire shock the heck out of their adolescent children simply by being themselves. Remember, adolescents are convinced their parents are obsolete, out-of-date, irrelevant . . . barely even human. It is therefore worth pulling out all the stops, once in awhile, if just for the sheer pleasure of seeing their jaws drop. (Also, this kind of ambush builds mountains of respect on behalf of teenagers.)
Beleaguered parents tend to let certain parts of our personalities fall away. Who has time for all those hobbies and pursuits which made our twenties so interesting? Well, I'm here to tell you, your children' adolescent years are the perfect time to unearth these former passions. [Important Note: there is a difference between showing off in real-time and reminiscing, Uncle-Rico-style, about past glories. The former is awesome, the latter often seems pathetic to teenagers.]
Here are some of my very favorite examples of parents ambushing teenagers with their own awesomeness. I can't wait to hear yours!
1. While traveling with college-aged kids in Morocco, Dad recalls enough college-level French to get directions for the whole crew. His progeny are stunned; they didn't know he had ever studied French!
2. A mom with boys--a former athlete who has been mostly sedentary for twelve years-- whips out 50 pushups and walks on her hands. Jaws drop.
3. A father (with a Belushi-like physique) silences a pool party with a series of expertly executed belly flops and back flips.
4. A stay-at-home mom returns to her love of pottery and throws mugs, vases and bowls on the wheel--a skill not lost on her high-school kids, struggling in ceramics class. (This mom was ME.)
5. A working woman with sons--who have never paid a bit of attention to her J-O-B--announces one night at dinner that she is, at last, prepared to buy her company. And then she does.
6. A guy with a bit of a public persona is invited to join a cow-milking competition to celebrate the opening of a new local business. His 13-year-old kid, certain of the resulting humiliation, is shocked instead: seems his daddy grew up on a farm, and milking is like riding a bike. His papa wins the crazy contest; the kid is relieved and strangely proud.
7. A blue-collar dad, rarely seen without his ball cap and un-tucked shirt, cleans up beautifully for a father-daughter dance, and remembers enough moves from his Catholic-school upbringing to make his girl feel like a princess on the dance floor.
8. On a family car ride, a radio station announces a "best impression" contest and Mom calls in with her spot-on sendup of Keith Richards, which the children have never heard. Dad is not surprised when she wins the cash prize; the impersonation was one of the reasons he loved her in the first place.
9. A family of five nearly-grown children relishes the moment when each new kid is introduced to Mom and Dad's Dirty Dancing lift scene "...or the 'Run and Jump,' as we call it," she writes. (These are such socially responsible and always appropriate parents, the image is all the more delightful!)
Parents, don't hide your light under a bushel! Let it shine. Illuminate the cobwebby corners of your real personality and show your teenagers just some of the clever, crazy, cool things you can do. They may never quite recover . . and you can use their bewilderment to re-connect with them during these awful, awkward years. Shine on!