I Don’t Know How to Be Myself Around My Fourteen-Year-Old
You know how certain people just make you feel uncomfortable? Not in a freaked-out, I-think-this-person-might-be-a-mass-murderer kind of way, but in the sense that you’re not sure how to relax and just be in their presence? Maybe it’s that coworker who stares at you silently and expressionless just a bit too long after you’ve finished a sentence, making you feel they’re secretly judging you. Or that acquaintance whose personality doesn’t quite mesh with yours, like the loudmouth to your introvert, who’s so unpredictable that you fear what may come out of their mouth next.
I t’s the first day of my current job, and I encounter that girl. She’s small and feisty with a cute pixie cut. I can tell she either spends a lot of time in tanning salons or has a bed of her own. Her voice is hoarse but loud, with a very distinct country twang. After my first week in the office, I discover that she dominates every conversation she’s a part of. She takes a lot of smoke breaks. And she has me intimidated as hell. She is also the colleague given the task of training me.
By the time she left the company to pursue another career move, we’d become fairly close, her confiding in me about her marital problems, and us swapping personal cell phone numbers to keep in touch. But for a long time, I was on pins and needles in her presence.
These are the same pins and needles that prick me every time I interact with my own daughter, my middle child. And since her older sister is the polar opposite, this is new territory for me. I honestly don’t even know how to act around her.
A few months ago, she spent the weekend at my parents’ house. That Sunday afternoon, Mom and I meet halfway for me to pick her up. As I climb out of my SUV, she bursts into laughter.
Omigod, why do you look like that? What is with that owl sweatshirt you’re wearing?
In my defense, owls were all the rage, like, ten years ago when I bought the damn thing. And being a married 41-year-old, working from home with three kids and a limited social life — especially during the past year of COVID lockdown — the need to update my wardrobe ranks fairly low on my priority list.
She’s wearing an oversized hoodie that’s covering her shorts, at least I can only hope she’s wearing shorts underneath. Socks with camouflage Crocs. And a trucker hat of my dad’s partially concealing a tangled web of hair that appears not to have seen a brush all weekend.
I act unaffected.
Um, what are YOU wearing?
Yet in that moment, I felt like an uncool 8th grader wearing the wrong brand of jeans, with a mean girl bringing it to the attention of the entire cafeteria.
"A" spends the night often. She’s been best friends with my daughter since elementary school, and I basically think of her as my own child.
Yesterday, I pick her up for a sleepover. She slides into the backseat and I hear low talking and laughter, which is nothing new. Then my daughter says something that catches my ear.
I don’t know if I want to now, because there’s gonna be boys there.
I assume she’s talking about a party, or some other function she hasn’t made me aware of, so I speak up.
Hey, what’s that? What’s going on?
In the rear view mirror, I catch an eye roll from my daughter, and a snickering whisper into A’s ear.
Um, bruh…why did she just ask that? Like, was I talking to her?
As it turns out, she doesn’t want to run track because it’s co-ed. No biggie.
But in that moment of eye rolls and whispers, I felt like a geeky 8th grade outsider, trying to pry into the conversation of the cool kids.
Last Thursday, school announced it would be closed for snow the following day, so she had a sleepover with her friend, E. E’s parents came by our house Thursday afternoon, and I picked her up from theirs the following afternoon.
They live deep in the country, and it’s a 30 minute drive in normal conditions. Although most of the snow had melted or been cleared by the road department, I still took the winding roads at turtle speed, adding a good 10 minutes to our commute home.
We spend a few moments talking about her night. They got pulled behind a four-wheeler on an inflatable pool raft which popped after about 30 minutes, but they had fun while it lasted. I comment that where E lives reminds me of being in the mountains, even though we live in the same county. My daughter agrees, saying she feels like she’s in Gatlinburg, where my parents used to take the grandkids on extended weekend getaways.
That’s where the conversation ended.
Hey, I’ve got my AirPods in, so if you talk and I don’t answer, that’s why.
Sure, that’s fine.
The remaining 35 minutes are spent in uncomfortable silence.
M aybe it’s just her age, and the fact that she entered her teenage years only two months prior to the entire world being turned upside down by a pandemic. Three months after turning 13, she was forced into quarantine, started virtual learning, and stopped seeing her friends. Nearly a year later, not much has changed. That’s a hard pill to swallow for anyone. Factor in teen girl hormones, boy drama, and a recently diagnosed MTHFR gene mutation accompanied by bouts of depression. This is the bleak picture I currently see in front of me.
I would love to have talks with her that aren’t etched with sarcasm. Every afternoon when she comes home and walks past my office, I wish she’d pause at my door and tell me something amazing or funny that happened at school instead of snapping at me when I ask about her day. With each strained conversation, every awkward moment spent feeling like my daughter hates me, I long for a day when we can have that bond that we used to have so long ago that maybe I dreamed it.
As badly as I hate to admit it, I realize the journey is going to take some work on my part. Taking the time to know and understand her instead of just questioning why she is the way she is. Genuinely listening instead of tuning out the parts I don’t want to hear. Really being present.
But one thing is for sure. No matter how our mother-daughter relationship progresses, or whether the air around us ever grows a little less tense,I guarantee she’ll always call me out for what I’m wearing. And I’m okay with that.