Daughter of the Revolution

My 12-year-old daughter has come down with something. I think it’s called puberty. It’s certainly called annoying. This brilliant, gorgeous child who only weeks ago was full of hugs and kisses and admiration for me has suddenly been replaced by an alien beast.

“Mom?” she says with that tone. “Are you wearing eyeliner? Because you don’t usually wear eyeliner. It’s interesting.” Or yesterday, her eyes hardened with anger, a dark scowl across her forehead, one hand jauntily on her hip and the other brandishing a metal dustpan: “Just so you know, I’m relegated to using this as an implement for cleaning the guinea pig’s cage, since you have utterly neglected to provide me with a litter scoop.” I glance at my son and he glances back, both of us clearly wondering how we are so thick as to not see the urgency of her problem. And as for the mustache my daughter thinks I’m growing—in a certain light of course—well, I’d just as soon not discuss it. To think I used to consider her broad vocabulary an asset.

Now, before we go further, don’t worry that I’ll embarrass her by telling you all of this—I always get her permission before I put her into print. The thing is, I’m never likely to say anything she hasn’t already heard, even if she happens to insist with smug nonchalance on humming Chopsticks to drown me out.

But she can’t fool me, no matter how hard she tries. Because at the end of the day, the alien departs and my daughter, under cloak of darkness, returns. “Mom,” she calls, “come put me to bed.” And so I trudge up the stairs and crawl under her pretty embroidered comforter, settling in for the stories that are about to come. Stories about friends, boys, and teachers, but even moreso stories about her: what she is thinking, what she believes, what she loves and hates most in the whole wide world. If I listen closely enough, I get to hear a great deal about who my daughter thinks she is and who she plans to become. It’s fascinating and deeply reassuring.

By the time I was her age I didn’t tell anybody anything anymore. My stories imploded and collapsed on themselves until I no longer recognized them as having once been a part of me. I can clearly see seventh grade as the year when I lost all sense of myself, when I wandered deep into the cold dark woods—wild animals all around, red eyes glowing and mouths frothing—and the bread crumbs I left to mark my trail just scattered like dust. I had no idea how to find my way back to myself and it scared me damn near to death.

In my twin bed in the basement of my dad’s suburban split level, I’d lie awake nights staring into the pitch black, afraid to go to sleep because in the quagmire of unconsciousness I’d find myself in the white cinderblock tunnel that led to the girls’ locker room at school, fluorescent lights glaring overhead, my legs leaden and paralyzed as the throngs of kids pushed past me.

I’m so thankful my daughter has a clearing in the woods into which bright sunlight streams (or moonlight, as the case may be), a place where tame songbirds congregate, and wildflowers nod in the breeze. This is a place where she can throw off the accoutrement of adolescence and be something truer—at least for a moment or two in the hush of bedtime. “Don’t go,” she pleads when I try to slip away. “Stay, Mama, you can’t go.” “But it’s late,” I tell her.

I have so much to do is what I’m really thinking. Lessons to plan, stories to write, schedules to iron out before the new day pummels me. How many phone calls did I blow off today? How many chores have gone undone? And what in God’s name am I going to wear to work tomorrow? I’m so tired, the weight of the comforter lulls me into sleepiness. My daughter is warm beside me, chattering on, and I can feel myself drifting off as her guinea pig chirps softly in the background. But I can’t lie in her bed all night. I snap myself awake and sit up. “I have to get up, I have to.”

“No,” she says firmly. “All you have to do is stay with me forever.”