An eye opener with my daughter this weekend.
Saturday afternoon was the powwow. And Saturday evening was her first homecoming dance. She had seemed fairly calm about the whole thing, had happily looked through Free People for dresses and shoes that she liked. I had promised that if she didn't get too pricey, she could have a new dress and shoes for it. She stayed in budget and it was arranged that she attend the dance with a group of about ten other girls. All freshman. No one with a date.
I liked this arrangement. Very much.
It wasn't until she was getting ready for Homecoming that she seemed to get a little....wiggy. She sat in her dark green dress, brushing her long straight hair that has grown past her shoulders again. She appeared pensive. I asked her if she was nervous. She gave me a dismissive look. No, she told me, she wasn't. What was there to be nervous about?
I shrugged, left her alone.
Liv came down the stairs finally, looking positively striking in her dress with the cap sleeves and skirt that flared softly at her waist and her clunky high heeled ankle boots. (What is it with shoes this season? They all seem to be especially ugly and clunky....) She looked like a wispy, yet ethereal Valkyrie.
Bing literally gasped when she saw her.
"You look like you should be in Vogue!" she exclaimed in a voice that wasn't exactly pleased.
Liv smiled then and there it was: her jack o lantern grin that somehow brought my little girl back into the picture.
Liv has undergone some big changes in the last year. She has shot up several inches and is now willowy and slim hipped with long legs. Her olive tinted skin, a soft mix of her Native American/Irish heritage sets off her hair and she has naturally puffy lips that in an older woman would look botoxed. She is not really pretty, not cute....but beautiful in a classic way, like Grace Kelly or Isabella Rossellini. And yet, when she smiles...her smile is crooked and broad and it brings everything back down to earth.
And yes, the boys have noticed.
They flock around her like gangly ostriches to her swan, tumbling over themselves to talk to her. She is half frightened, half amazed. I believe that she doesn't quite know how to handle it all.
We drove her to her friend's home where two of her friends were meeting too. They all looked good, but...and I was not imagining it....Liv stood out. Not only was she the tallest, but she also had that certain something....I believe it is called the it factor. Now, here is where you all think that I am deep in my Mother love and that of course Liv is not THAT beautiful.
But, the thing is, she is. I have always been extraordinarily honest with myself about my child, forced myself to see the whole picture of her. And now, I have to admit that my daughter is far more beautiful than I ever was. Yet, she is totally unaware of it. I could see the other girls eying her with a little jealousy, nothing serious, but it was there. They weren't going to shun her or anything and this will all change in a few years when they come into their own, but right now, she is ahead of them.
Photos were taken and then more photos taken as they all arrived at the dance and posed with even more girls. Later, I would look at the photos and think to myself that they all looked giddy and excited. Except for my daughter. She looked like she had a stomach ache but was being brave and smiling, a close lipped wisp of a smile that didn't reach her eyes.
At the end of the night, after she was dropped off, I met her at the door, thanked one of the girl's Fathers for bringing her home. Liv slipped by me after telling him her thank yous and glided upstairs while I chatted with him.
He smiled, said the girls seemed to have a good time.
"Your Livvy is certainly lovely," he said and then hurriedly remarked that he didn't mean to sound lecherous. I smiled and assured him that I thought nothing and that yes, I thought she was lovely too.
"There's something about her, though," he went on, thoughtfully. "She is so quiet and unassuming. She isn't into that hair flipping that you see in girls these days. She is very ingenuous." I responded by saying something nice and innocuous about his daughter, her skill in art. We said our goodbyes in true Husker fashion by talking about the game next weekend with Illinois.
And then, I went upstairs to check on Liv. She had already jumped into the shower so I waited patiently in her room. She came in a few moments later, wrapped in a towel. Seeing me, she stiffened, asked me to leave while she put her pajamas on. Embarrassed, I did. She'd never shown any modesty in front of me before, but I supposed it was about time. I chided myself for not anticipating this.
I waited a few moments and then tapped lightly on her door. Asked if I could come in. I felt her hesitate and then she opened the door a crack.
"I'm knackered out," she said. "Let's talk in the morning."
She must have seen my disappointment, relented and opened the door. I promised her to be brief. Said I just wanted to hear how Homecoming went.
She sighed almost dramatically and then...out of nowhere, exploded at me.
"God, must you push me ALL THE TIME?" she shouted.
Startled, I backed away. I heard Bing's step in the hallway and knew what was coming. And it did.
"That is NO way to speak to your MOTHER, Liv!"
Liv rolled her eyes, suddenly not angry anymore, but annoyed. She shook her head as if she could not believe she was being scolded and then said....tersely....
I just stood there, watching her. Liv ducked her head and held her arm out, inviting me in.
I cautiously went into her room. She closed the door behind me and then surprised me again by bursting into tears and flinging herself on her bed.
Well, I thought, so THIS is that teenager thing that everyone has been warning me about. But...jaysus. She had gone from furious, to annoyed, to miserable in such fast succession, I was flummoxed. I sat down next to her, patting her back, waiting. I looked over at Socks, questioning.
"Don't look at me," he said, in his Ernest Borgnine voice. "I'm just the dog."
Finally, Liv sat up and looked at me blearily.
"Was the dance that awful?" I asked.
She shook her head, exasperated. "NO!" she said. "It was...fine. It was just....fine, I suppose. It's just...I can't explain it. Now, don't go all shrink on me," she said, her voice a warning.
She went on.
"I feel really mixed up ALL THE TIME," she blurted. "I keep thinking that I am tired of the world just spinning so quickly. I mean, I knew high school would be hard, but I had no idea that it would be THIS hard. I'm just confused. I feel like I'm not me anymore or something. Like I used to love math and now it seems boring. I think pre-calc is useless. And I used to love science, but I'm not really digging meteorology either. I like history, even if it's pre-1500 World History. I like English but I'm not used to liking it that much. I feel like I'm a snake or something and I shed my old skin and the new skin just feels.....WEIRD. And suddenly everyone wants to know what I want to be when I grow up. I always knew exactly what I wanted to be: an environmental engineer! But now? I just don't know. I kind of like journalism and I really like drama class. But that seems so frivolous and I don't want to be one of those sappy girls who walk around reciting Shakespeare either. I feel like my brain is just deteriorating. And none of my old clothes look right on me. I've grown so tall and I'm really getting boobs now and when my period is due, I feel like my breasts are all bruised! I look in the mirror and I see this person and for the first time in my life....I FEEL LIKE I HAVE NO IDEA WHO SHE IS!
She stopped, almost gasping to take a long shuddering breath. I took her hand in mine and stroked it with my thumb, letting her go on if she needed to. She looked around wildly for a moment as if she couldn't believe that she had just spilled the beans like that to me and then she fell back against the bed hard, almost knocking Socks off the bed. When he groused, she pulled him into her lap, kissing his head, apologizing.
"Sorry, Soxie. Sorry, bud."
She warily looked over at me, maybe waiting for me to answer her. When I didn't, she went on.
"And boys! GOD. I'm half sick to death of them and half scared to death of them. I used to prefer boys to girls, remember? Boys made more sense to me. Now, they act so stupid! Even the smart ones! They get all unglued around me, gawking at me and stuttering. Whenever I go to these dances, I think to myself that I will wear flats this time so that I won't be taller than most of them but then I get all defiant and think FUCK THEM. I'll wear whatever I want. (Yes, I did flinch when she said FUCK, by the way, but wisely kept it to myself....) And then all the girls are even more stupid than the boys. They are primping like princesses and dragging me into the bathroom with them so that I can watch them slurp on more lip gloss, like they don't look like they have an inch of vaseline on them already! And I HATE makeup. It feels gloppy and just...wrong. But, I put it on anyway! And why? Because I want them to like me? How pathetic is that? What is WRONG with me? It's like everything feels all wrong and strange and I used to be so happy in my own skin and now I just don't know who I am anymore!"
She stopped again to take another gulp of air and then looked over at me, beseeching me to speak with her eyes, which had filled with tears again. I leaned over and hugged her close and she let me, laying across me, her head in my lap, nudging against my hand like a cat, needing to feel me pamper her, love her up.
I looked down at her and smiled, tucking her hair behind her ear and said just one sentence:
You are absolutely normal.
Her tears spilled over.
"Then why don't I FEEL normal?" she asked, plaintively.
"Because you are an adolescent," I said and then held up my hand before she could get all angsty on me again.
"Sweetheart, this is the beginning of becoming an adult. And it's the hardest part. It WILL get easier as you get older, I promise. But, if you ask almost anyone, they will tell you that the time in their lives when they felt totally clueless and like a quacking duck was when they were 14. Let me give you an image. Think of yourself as...well....moulting."
Liv looked incredulously up at me and then let out a short laugh. I joined her.
"And here's the even weirder deal. You have this body that is growing up and getting all womanly and you still FEEL like that 12 year old on your bike. Your insides don't match your outsides and won't for a while. But, you WILL catch up. It will just take a few years. By the time that you are 16 or 17, life will clear up a lot. You will have less questions and more answers, be more sure and less confused. But, right now? Ugh. Life is going to feel...yes...weird...for a year or so or more. But, Livvy, I SWEAR to you that it will get better. I promise."
Her eyes had cleared; I could see that her brain, for now, had cleared too. She sat up slowly, lethargically. Leaned down and rested her head on my shoulder, cuddling. I savored this, it is rarer now. When she was younger, I was on the receiving end of lots of cuddling. Not so much now. I kissed her head, her cheeks, her eyelids. And then we moved on to Homecoming. It was fun. She danced a lot. Boys were still stupid. Some boy had brought a frog and dumped it into the punch bowl. For the life of her, she didn't get the humor of nearly drowning a little toad in fruit punch. We both laughed. Agreed that yes, boys were incredibly stupid. Liv's eyes were growing heavy, so I tucked her in bed like I used to do when she was little and she wrapped her arms around my neck, as she used to do.
"Love you, Mama," she said and sleepily turned over.
I told her that I loved her too and turned the light out.
When I walked out of her room, I felt so fatigued that I almost stumbled. She had completely wore me out with her tumultuous emotions.
Puberty. Adolescence. Ugh. So hard.
I started to go to the bedroom to talk to Bing but decided against it right now. Bing is very black and white in her thinking. There is right and there is wrong. She doesn't give much credence to gray. I wasn't up to talking to her about this yet. So, I called Tinton.
We talked for a long time about Liv. I told him about the conversation I had with her. He told me that he had been expecting it. That when she had stayed with him in Spain this Summer, he had seen the boys "sniffing around" her and had wanted to punch their faces in. We both agreed that adolescence sucks.
"She's so much like you in so many ways," Tinton said. "But, in other ways? She is much different. When I met you, my first thought was that you seemed to have a sign on you that said This is a dark ride. With Liv, she is very quiet, very aloof like you, but your aloofness comes across as....NOW DON'T GET ALL PISSED OFF....sort of haughty. Liv's aloofness just seems very innocent, very untested. Naive."
Of course, leave it to me to be offended.
"A DARK RIDE? You see me as a dark ride?"
Tinton laughed. "I KNEW you'd get all ticked off. What I'm saying is that you had a much tougher childhood than Liv has had, you have a back as ramrod straight as a ruler. You lost your Da when you were just a kid. Your Mother disowned you. You have baggage and probably had it even at her age. Liv doesn't. She's been disappointed by Sven, but everyone else in her life has been pretty supportive. She doesn't have your mental toughness. And you may have noticed this. She is freakin' beautiful, Maria. She has somehow went from this gangly kid who was all elbows and knees to this...willow. I feel like I could kill a dragon if I had to. She makes me want to protect her. She's our baby, but when we look at her, she looks so...GROWN UP. So formed. It is hard to remember sometimes that she is a just this scared little kid inside still, ya know?"
I agreed. We agreed that we would keep in touch and he said to tell Liv that he'd call her in a day or two and that I should tell her that he would NOT be asking about Homecoming. We were laughing when we hung up.
The next day, I met my bff, Harriet, for lunch. Another heart to heart. When I told her about Liv's outburst, her eyes started with tears and that made me choke up too. We reached our hands across the table to hold.
"You know," Harriet said, "Liv really, really reminds me of a young Nastassja Kinski or Brooke Shields. She has that full baby mouth and a sweet baby-ness about her in this really sensuous, womanly body. How terrifying for her! I mean, I'm not saying that I wish that she was an ugly duckling, but it's like....she went from this little bluebird into a swan really, really fast!"
I had to agree. "Her smile saves the day, though," I said. "She still has that crooked grin. Maybe I should make her get braces again...."
I felt better after talking to Harriet and Tinton and was finally able to take on Bing. I didn't chide her for yelling at Liv. Sometimes she is right to do that. I tend to be more relenting, less likely to be a finger shaker and truthfully? Sometimes Liv needs that wall. But, I wanted to make Bing see that she needs to tread more carefully for a while. Liv is, as Harry Chapin would say, a tangled up puppet right now and we need to cut her slack occasionally. So, we talked. And it went about as well as expected. Bing still thinks I am too lenient. I still think she is too strict. But, I guess maybe we balance each other out. For now, I am leaving it be.
Liv and I put our garden to bed yesterday. I let her stay home from school and I played hookey from work. We tucked everything back into the earth, except for the tomato plants which are still producing remarkably for October. We had more of a chance to talk then. We talked as we worked. About boys mostly. About how they don't hit their stride as quickly as girls do and how they are going to be just plain stupid for a very long time.
Liv had leaned back on her heels as we finished, taking off her garden gloves.
"I feel sometimes like they want to eat me when they look at me," she said. "Kind of bothersome but well...kind of interesting too. And funny. I wonder if they know how silly they look?"
I told her that there is a HUGE difference in a 14 year old boy than a 17 year old one.
"They come around," I told her.
I asked her if she was interested in boys (or girls) yet. She said that she wasn't really, that she felt like she was lagging behind her friends in that department. I told her that I was much the same myself. A late bloomer. That I never was really attracted to any boys or girls until I was about 16. This seemed to soothe her. I forget sometimes that in every adolescent there is this inner voice screaming to be just like everyone else. Diversity isn't a top priority when you are Liv's age.
"You have to let the boys grow in the trees," I told her. Liv looked at me, questioning, frowning a little.
Later, I brought up this video on the computer and we listened together, smiling.
I think we'll get through her adolescence, but I will have many grey hairs as we go.
What do you think? How was your adolescence? The same? Different?