AS A NEW parent thinking about the hard talks I’d have to have someday with my young teenager, I envisioned such topics as peer pressure, sex, booze, and drugs. If only. Twice in the last few days, the conversations J. and I have had with R. have made those subjects look as benign as bubble gum and lollipops.
THE HOUR had grown late, and the All-Star Game had yet to see a Phillie appear, when R. noticed that Fox had cut to the National League’s bullpen, where Cliff Lee was warming up.
As the fourth inning ended, long past her bedtime, I looked to R., already fading on the love seat, and said, “You want to see Cliff pitch?”
Work exploded, as the calendar moved into my department’s busiest time of the year and we took on a major new project on top of our usual other duties.
Home exploded, as the girls added play rehearsal and spring sports to their already lengthy litany of activities, as I tacked t-ball coaching to my bulletin board of commitments, and as J. and I delved further into the planning stages of a big-time renovation initiative.
And I exploded, as months of wintertime consumption and hibernation had me feeling heavy and dull, my clothes uncomfortable and my body looking decidedly middle-aged.
WHEN SHE heard that her final indoor soccer game had been switched to a players-versus-parents scrimmage, R. uncaged her inner trash talker almost immediately.
“What do you think?” I wrote in forwarding her coach’s note about the change.
That’s how I found myself yesterday morning wearing a t-shirt and shorts, standing inside an enormous complex of basketball courts and artificially turfed soccer fields, and hoping not to pull anything so severely that I couldn’t drive home.
FOR ALL of the poise and skill they show on the pitch, in the concert hall, and on the boards, R. and Q. lately have taken to reminding us that they are 11 and 6. It’s as if they don’t want Mrs. D. and me to get too smug in our parenting achievements. And it’s working.
R. is questioning every last request, comment, and direction, whether it involves her chores, her clothes, or her bedtime. “Why?” “Why not?” “No, I don’t.” “Yes, I do.” “But, Dad/Mom …” These are flung at us constantly, in response to the very smallest and most insignificant statement on our part. It’s a grinding ground war, and each instance of resistance represents another few inches of depth in the trench she continues to dig with dogged determination.
LEST YOU think that R. is the only Dadlibbing daughter with artistic tendencies, rest assured that Q. is beginning to make her mark as well. At age 6.
A wonderful, dedicated mom at Q.’s elementary school is staging a couple of student-starring musicals next month to raise money for our Parent Teacher Organization. She recruited volunteers to help backstage and landed my piano teacher as the shows’ pianist. And she announced auditions in order to separate the actors into two groups: speaking parts and chorus.
What Mrs. D. and I didn’t realize until the night before was that Q. was supposed to memorize lines from one of the scenes for her audition. Each of us spent the remainder of the evening and some of the next morning running lines with her. By the time she left for school, script in hand for further study, she was doing pretty well. But she’s in kindergarten, after all, so we were all kinda, “Yeah, we should have started helping her earlier, but she’ll have fun in the chorus, and she’ll have plenty more chances in the years to come.”
SHE IS but 11, yet as R. stood on stage, her hair fixed just so, wearing a short-sleeve button-up shirt and a frilly black skirt, and running the bow across the strings of her violin with skill and poise, she looked much, much older.
Q. typically is the one we see as acting above her age. Because she’s scary-smart and loves to hang out with her big sister, she seems like a tween trapped in a 6-year-old’s body. R., though, the personification of sweetness, with a heart as big as the sky, is impossible to conceive of as less than two years away from being a teenager.
But at last week’s violin recital, dressed as she was, playing as she did, R. began — just barely, mind you — to come into focus as the young woman who’s not too far away. As much as I want to stave it off, it was a beautiful sight. | DL