So something funny happened last week. It’s not earth-shattering or anything, but it did kind of creep up on me. Birthdays don’t exactly appear out of nowhere. On some level, we know when our kids’ birthdays are coming up. Punch’s big day shouldn’t have been a shock. We’ve been celebrating it for years, after all. I remember the first one vividly as it was the night of the infamous Bush-Gore presidential election, dimpled chads and all. Nevertheless, when he burst through the bedroom door that morning and announced, I’m a teenager! It hit me like a safe falling from a roof: I have three teenagers.

This is my favorite time of year for many reasons, but high on the list is that this is the one-month window when my poor family-planning leaps to the fore: Cranky (15), Whiny (14) and Punch (13) are one birthday year apart. And now that I have three teenagers, the three Ds (drinking, dating, driving) are all on the horizon–but not yet. Well, to the extent I’m still in denial about it, not yet. As I forge ahead with this parenting thing, sadly there’s no other direction in which to go, I am reminded every day that all I know is that I know nothing. Huh, Socrates must have been the father of something other than Western philosophy. For the record, here is what I do know about teenagers. If you ever find yourself surrounded by a herd, this may help.

Teenagers are starving

I vaguely remember worrying that my kids were so finicky that they were going to end up with rickets or scurvy. I used to fly airplane-spoonfuls of mushy, indeterminate vegetables into their mouths, only to be met with a sealed-lip rejection. I called the pediatrician for supplement suggestions. (His new home number is unlisted.) Now, I come into the kitchen, and it’s as if a swarm of locusts has passed through while I slept. Entire boxes of cereal have been devoured, empty milk gallons scattered. I baked cookies the other day, and they never made it to the cooling rack, much less the plate. If I didn’t have the dirty bowl, I wouldn’t have known they existed.

Teenagers are unimpressed

Very little impresses a teenager, and I have learned the hard way that attempts to do it backfire, as a special treat suddenly becomes the norm. Backstage passes for one concert make sitting in the audience at the next one ‘gross.’ After a visit to a box at a sporting event, perfectly good seats illicit a look akin to something one would make after smelling bad cheese. And I try to lend perspective, to give them a peek at all worlds, but with limited success. For now, I guess I can just be glad they haven’t had a chance to meet the Jolie-Pitt kids…yet.

Teenagers are devious

Do yourself a favor and don’t pick up that gauntlet. You might think you’re sneaky with your tracking app, but something tells me if my kids put as much effort into their studies as they did into making sure their whereabouts and communiqués were not monitored, their grades would be vastly improved. Unless you are employed redirecting satellites for NORAD, you can’t out-techno a teen.

Teenagers are insecure

I don’t know how much we can do to help. It’s easy to say you won’t judge until Cranky shows up one day with a piercing or a tat. Teens are bullies and victims and outcasts and leaders and athletes and geeks and talkers and thinkers. I guess what I wasn’t really prepared to acknowledge is that teenagers are people: decision-making young adults. I’m not really sure what to do with that, but I better figure it out before they do it for me.