We Left Resentment At the Lake

Yesterday, Tallulah and I went for a walk around Lake Merritt. We left at 8am, which apparently is excruciatingly early for a 13-year old person. The day before, she asked me if we could go for a hike. This being remarkable on many levels – not least of which the fact that she can barely tolerate my presence these days – I decided it had to happen. Then, by the time it did, she was just not that into me anymore. Ah, the difference a few short hours can make in the mother-daughter relationship.

I had to coax her with avocado toast and throw in a stop for hot chocolate just to get her out of bed. And before she would peel back the covers, she wanted to know where we were going. I guess she had to weigh the destination against her comfy pillow and warm blankets.  I had been researching places we could go that I wasn't already tired of and that were still open during SIP -- most of the places I thought of were closed.  Then I thought of Lake Merritt, which I've loved on my walks with Susan and would be new to Tallulah.

Perfect! I thought.  Meh, was Tallulah's general response.  Even still, with enough cajoling in the form of avocado, I got her in the car and off we went.

With. No. Aux. Cord. THE HORROR.

She wasn't interested in (a) NPR, (b) the radio or (c) the lone Scottish fiddle CD that's been in my player since fiddle camp last June.  We opted for silence.  Combine a reluctant teenager with an early-for-her morning and no acceptable music, and you get a very quiet car ride.

In my head: Mom's just over her behind the wheel thinking "It's OK...it's time together...it'so OK...it's time together..." and trying hard not to fill the silence just to make herself feel better.

The few sentences Tallulah did speak were on the order of "What is this place, anyway?" and "Are we stopping for hot chocolate first?" and "I said I wanted to go for a HIKE not a WALK."

With such enthusiasm, the morning was bound to be joyful!  Yeah, not so much.  Our walk consisted of me walking slightly slower than I wanted to and still staying two paces ahead of her – probably because she preferred it that way – and me biting my lip when I wanted to point out something pretty or interesting.

I couldn't help myself, after too many steps taken in silence, from pointing out a large collection of ducks and geese, one of which was drinking water.  Drinking water is a laborious process for long-necked waterfowl, as they take a drink and then have to raise their heads up high to let the water shimmy down their throats, gulping several times for what seems like a pretty small amount of water. I called this to Tallulah's attention, but alas, I misspoke:

Me: "Look at that duck drinking water: it's so much work for him!"

Daughter disdain dripping: "That's not a duck."

"Right. Goose. Look at the goose. My apologies."

More silent walking.

Families walked by chatting.  Friends walked by deep in conversation. Couples walked by engrossed in each other.  Joggers ran by all healthy and purposeful.  We plodded on in silence, mom in front, daughter two steps behind.

Around a bend, we encountered a flock of geese, easily twenty or thirty of them.

Me, playfully: "Look at all those ducks!"

Her: Icy stare.

More plodding.

Her, annoyed: "It's so hot out here!  Why did you make me bring a sweatshirt???"

More plodding.

Her, annoyed: "Are we going all the way around this WHOLE lake?"

Me: "Hell no, I've got better things to do than take a morning stroll with resentment."

I'm 99% sure I didn't say this out loud, instead beginning my answer with:

"We can turn right up there and go back along Grand Avenue instead of going all the way around.  I'm sure we'll pass a coffee shop along there too."

So we did.  We cut short the walk, which was only about 40 minutes long at that point, found a cafe and got her a drink.  She opted for raspberry lemonade, what with it being sweltering and all.

While we waited for her drink, I noticed we were right across the street from Children's Fairyland.  This spot is near and dear to my heart, from the countless trips Rick and I made here with our children in the early days of our parenting.  Later, the kids' Kindergarten class made an annual field trip here too, which we chaperoned whenever we could.  So many happy memories.

For some of us at least.  I was jolted out of my nostalgic haze by Tallulah:

"What's Children's Fairyland?"

How was this possible?  How could she not know Fairyland?  Where had we gone wrong that this special place was not firmly fixed in her memory?  Incredulity...shame...parental regret...wondering if her gangly arms and legs would fit inside Mother Hubbard's shoe if we tried to make up for lost time and brought her here now: many things went through my head.  It was so striking to me, I texted Rick.  And then I sat on Grand Avenue, waiting for T's lemonade, soaking up the sun and feeling disappointed in our sad, plodding little walk and in myself for failing to be the same parent for #5 as I had been for #1 and #2 and probably even #3 and maybe even some for #4.  Time goes too damn fast and I don't know how it slipped away from me.

We picked up her drink, and walked on.  The skip in her step returned only when we could see the car, and her escape from the entire tortuous morning seemed finally at hand.

But then on the drive home, lo and behold, the sun that had shone down on all those lake walkers finally emerged in my car.  She actually DID remember Children's Fairyland, Mother Hubbard's shoe specifically, which prompted her to remember other funny things about Kindergarten and childhood and pretty soon, stories were spilling out of her and she was chattering and giggling and lovely. My heart eased. I got the time back.  She even forgot how annoying I was, and did not recoil from the sound of my voice! Victory! Only 15 minutes in the car, but suddenly the sad, plodding little walk was golden and perfect.

And just like that, we left resentment at the lake.

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