The Company She Keeps (From my Writing Attic)
In school, my daughter is in advanced math and reading; she raises her hand to ask a question, and gets along with everyone who tries to get along with her. Teachers love her. At home, she voices opinions about everything from who I date to what she, her brothers, and I have for dinner. She baby sits her baby brother and is her little brother’s nemesis.
Years ago, my daughter grabbed her little brother before he could fall through our second-story window. The window opened outwards though, because there was no screen, we never opened it. Somehow, the lock had slid out of place. When her little brother leaned against the glass, his big sister noticed the slow-motion opening, yanked her brother from the ledge, and saved his life. She tells this story often, altering the ending to fit her moods.
I will not always be the most influential person in my child’s life. My little girl is a young lady equipped with a gaggle of friends. I know how important friends are: they validate a person. I know how dangerous friends are: they validate a person. They will listen when I won’t or can’t; they will talk when I won’t or can’t. They will be “there” when my daughter doesn’t want me to be.
So, I try to be nice to her friends. They are my potential allies, my unwitting partners available for the price of a slice of pizza or a well-timed, iced-cold glass of Coke on a particularly hot day.
My daughter and her best friend are connected by thick, black wires, a cross stitch of technology enabling communication from one to the other at any given time. With her perpetually-puffy cheeks, thick child-like curves and mathematical fluency, this friend is one of the kids I like my daughter playing with. Telephone, Internet, cell phone, hell, possibly even a well-calculated and extremely loud yell would travel the distance from our house to hers. Today, this friend is trying on a different shade of teen. Telephones, Internet, cell phones and the primitive yell are not advanced enough. So she clunks from her house at the mouth of the street to my daughter at the curve of the cul-de-sac.
She climbs the 28 stone steps much the same as she did seven days before, but today she enters our home as a teenager. She has been a teenager for months; today is the first day I notice. She waits in the living room, eyes bathed in glittery, golden shadow, cheeks red as two blistering slaps, lips an astonishing screech of red, as my daughter, my sons and I look her over. Even my two-year-old doesn’t say a word; maybe she doesn’t look any differently to him. It’s not the first time she has worn make-up, it’s just the first time she’s worn it around me.
The girls, one chubby, one slimmer, one made up, one dressed down, traipse to my daughter’s room. It’s a planning session. I don’t go up. We’ve talked about her room. In her mind, we are going to create a teenage wonderland. She’ll provide the teenager; I just have to provide everything else.
Suddenly, my volleyball prima donna declares her room has to be pretty, because she plans to spend a lot of time in there. “I’m going to have lots of stuff,” she says with a giggle, “because teenagers have lots of stuff, I don’t know what kind of stuff.” And, she doesn’t seem to care much because she’ll be in her room, with her stuff (and not her brothers), talking to her friends. And maybe I won’t mind because she’ll be in her room, instead of out there doing whatever it is teenagers do, or God forbid, doing what I did when I was a teenager.