Teenage Girls Are Awesome: Here's Why
| simpler time: before they were|
so confused about me.
She’s speeding towards 14 now, and she still does some version of push-me/pull-you on a regular basis. Sometimes, she comes up to me and encircles me with her arms while trying not to touch me. Or she’ll grab my arm and fling it away. Repeatedly. While squawking. Basically, she’s confused.
I have three daughters, so opportunities for absurdity abound. Today at the 9am Mass, I took a chance with Daughter #1, who is 15: I put my arm around her. Mothers around the world know what a foolhardy mission this could have been, to open myself up to ninja level rejection and scorn like that.
But lo, a miracle occurred, and she let my arm stay where I had so boldly placed it. She even snuggled in. We sat there for a few minutes, listening to what can only be described as an interminable homily, with at least one of us grateful for a few extended moments of closeness. I reveled in the sweetness, and even believed that maybe she didn’t think I was quite as cringe-worthy as usual. And then, she raised her head from my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said plainly: "Your presence is irritating me, and I don't know why." Having spoken her piece, she put her head back on my shoulder. And again, there was a beat of silence between us before the pew shook with suppressed giggles.
There it was, a simple truth. We both knew it: she just decided to put it out there.
I remember being a teenage girl. In between giggles, I told her: "It's OK. I remember being 15. I know what that feels like."
But here's where she differs from Teenage Me: she put her head back on my shoulder and left it there. She felt that mother-daughter confusion, named it, and stayed right there with me anyway. And like her sister before her, she found humor in that confusion, and let the laughter flow.
The moment lingered. It felt as if her funny, edgy words had cast a spell over us. I tried not to breath or move, hoping to stay there with her for as long as possible.
* * *
I was not nearly so gracious about my conflicted feelings towards my own mother, and I certainly could not find humor in them. I am almost 50, and while I have known for a while that Teenage Me was grossly unfair to my mom, it's only recently that I wonder what that must have been like for her. I can't ask her: she died this past November. I can't tell her I'm sorry I was a jerk. I will never know if she felt the slings and arrows I silently volleyed in her direction when I was 15. Did she feel me shudder when she pulled her shirt down tight over her hips? Did she realize that school clothes shopping with her felt like having a disease? How did I go from falling asleep in her lap to running laps to get away?
I wonder if she ever saw her daughters, my sister and I, wrestling with our Feelings About Mom in the same the way I see my own daughters doing today. While there are many times I am discouraged by their scorn, or weary from reminding myself that they aren't even human yet and their scathing opinion of me matters not, lately I have started seeing their vitriol, coupled with their need for me, as something else: The Truth about All Relationships.
I am beginning to suspect that the hormonal tsunami that is a teenage girl is the most honest source of truth about love and family. We love the people we love, and they simultaneously drive us painfully crazy. We want them, and we want to flee from them, all at once. We are terrified by and drawn to intimacy. Teenage girls are just more honest about it than the rest of us.
In those brief, conflicted and funny moments with my daughters, that honesty feels like the greatest gift I have ever been given.
Perhaps it would be wise to be grateful for their confusion and for the way they express it. Sooner than I can imagine, they will be settled young women who don’t cringe when I touch them and whose eyes have stopped rolling around like pinballs when I speak. Sooner than I want, the tension and strife will have packed their bags and moved out, leaving echoes of “what if” in their wake.
The tsunami will subside.
The absurdity will be gone.
These too, I will miss one day.