When I return to the workforce I am seriously considering working at a mental institution. Not because I would fit in (I’d have a uniform), but because I have come to the conclusion that pubescent behavior is akin to bipolar disorder.
Remember when our kids were cute and little (maybe yours still are. In that case, sell them now while they’re still retaining their sticker value) and they had difficulty with segues? When my oldest daughter was in first grade or so, I remember helping her with her language homework. I went over the importance of starting each sentence with a capital letter, ending with a period, exclamation point or question mark, and all the commas and semicolons in between. One typical day, after describing in excruciating detail the finer points of exclamatory sentences, my little girl looked up at me and lisped, “Did you know I have 74 cat stickers?” (only it was stheventy four sthickerth). Back then, it was cute. It warranted a call to my cousin or best friend and we’d collectively giggle over how quirky kids were.
I’m not giggling a lot these days, and unless you’re my husband presenting me with a gin and tonic, an updated passport and a briefcase full of unmarked bills with the instructions to “Go get lost for a while,” it’s unlikely to be a common occurrence for me in the near future. Like until I die.
The other night I had gained entrance to my preteen’s room during the bedtime hour. It’s rare to get an audience with a receptive adolescent, much less one that wasn’t solicited or demanded upon pain of death. I sat there on the edge of her daybed as she readied herself for the evening, the strains of music coming from her bathroom informing me that sexy is coming back. From where, I’m not sure, perhaps a trunk? With junk in it? But I digress. She came out, smelling of Clean and Clear, toothpaste, and brown sugar. She carefully turned her back to me as she slipped her pajama top on (because that would be shocking, you know. To actually see the embryonic mammaries of the young girl that sprang from my loins), and joined me on the edge of her bed.
What followed was initially delightful. She chattered on about school, about girls in her class, about volleyball. She asked me questions. She told me that junk in one’s trunk was passé and that I was to use the more de rigeur, yet slightly retro phrase referencing the booty. I told her bottom was just fine with me, and she endured my old-fashioned-ness without screaming that I was trying to turn her Amish. It was wonderful.
Then, the clouds began to roll in, the waters became a bit more choppy. She told me that the 8th grade girls said she was too skinny, calling her “el skelato” in jest, but that it hurt her feelings. Stupidly, blindly, I was still looking behind me, to calmer waters and the last ray of sun peeking out from the angry, purple cloud. “Oh, honey. They’re just saying that because they’re probably a little bit jealous. Not everyone can look like you, you know.” I reached over to touch her arm as I said this.
Mayday! Mayday! The ship of mother-daughter bonding was fast sinking and I had no idea why. Why? She was so happy, just 1.5 seconds ago. Without warning, she whipped a scowl at me and the gale force of her words slapped my skin. “They’re not jealous! They don’t want to be a STICK.”
I quickly scanned my mental bank of life preserving phrases to bring us back to tranquility, but then the stern went down as she warbled in agony, the last breaths of the sweet natured girl gurgling in my mind as she shrieked, “When are my boobs. Going. To.Get. BIGGER?? I floundered, not sure which way was up, then was hit again.
“WHY can’t you be one of those cool moms? The moms who don’t care where their kids are? [Mixed metaphor warning] Why are you always so on my shoulder about where I’m at?"
I was beached outside her door before I knew what hit me.
Several nights later, she had a friend stay the night. This young girl is adorable, yet slightly tough and savvy in a way that makes me nervous around her. She’s just the right combination of smart and unsupervised that I don’t like. Over dinner at our kitchen counter, I discovered that she lived with her mom and step-siblings in a very small apartment, that her father had committed suicide, and that her mom would sure like to come see my pretty house one day, only she works a lot and doesn’t really do that. As in see where her child is staying the night. I wanted to scoop this little lost bird up, feed her homemade soup, read her Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and get on her shoulder about things.
As the girls exited the kitchen to get ready for the movies, my daughter turned and looked at me. Were we to have a moment of understanding? A look that said, Thanks, mom, for how fiercely you love and protect me in this wonderful home?
My heart skipped, as my little girl mouthed the words, “Isn’t she cool?”