Last Friday, high school freshman Cassie came home from school, placed her backpack on the floor and nonchalantly said, "So, Mama, do you remember that group of sophomore girls that I've been having lunch with? Well . . . Every Monday, they go to McDonald's after school and hang out. They invited me to go with them next week. So, I'm going to go with them. OK?"
Cassie proceeded to leave a trail of discarded belongings as she made her way to her bedroom.
I chose not to follow, frightened by whatever else might come out of her mouth.
Her bedroom door closed and I collapsed underneath a heap of parenting anxiety suddenly at a complete loss of words.
The frequency with which this happens, this tongue-tied awkward silence, frightens me.
She has been scaring me a lot lately.
This new high school creature residing in my house only externally resembles my daughter.
I've been erring on the side of caution and observe from a distance whenever possible.
Here are some things that I've noticed:
1. In the mornings, she sings Maroon 5 when she is happy. If she is singing in the morning, it is guaranteed that she will get ready for school with absolutely zero coaxing from me. She will be on time for her bus and her blue eyes will sparkle as she bids me adieu from the front porch.
2. She owns entirely too many snug-fitting items of clothing. This was the first summer that we went back to school shopping and I didn't make her show me everything she tried on in the dressing room. I didn't have her touch her toes, so I could check the view from behind of her behind. I certainly didn't notice how snug her tops were or how tight her jeans were. She claims everything fits the way it always has on her body. She claims that I'm too focused on it. I dab my eyes with Kleenex and throw another cardigan over her.
3. She prefers the dog over me. One of the highlights of my day is being home when my kids get home from school, especially when they started going to different buildings with staggered start and dismissal times. Last year in the days of junior high school, her bus would bring her home 30 minutes before the elementary school dismissed and I would get 30 minutes of alone time with her. All summer long, I grew giddy when I found out that the high school bus would drop her off almost an entire hour earlier than elementary school dismissal. I envisioned a long conversation with her, sipping our chai tea and discussing school, politics and fashion. High school Cassie prefers to greet the puppy and spend time snuggling with the puppy before escaping into her bedroom with only a brief hello to me first.
4. If I have yummy snacks or humble offerings, I am allowed into the teenage sanctuary. I must knock tentatively on her door and lure her to open it with vague hints. If my offering or snack is worthy of her, she will invite me into the hallowed space and share half-stories from her day. I must write down these half-stories and save them. If I am lucky at the end of the week, I may be able to piece all of these little tidbits together to form a larger picture of a tiny portion of her life.
5. She tests me with shocking stories and records my responses. I must feign indifference or risk a teenage tirade (You just don't understand! I knew you wouldn't understand!).
First day of school example:
Me: "Hey, Cassie! How was your first day of school? Are the kids a lot different than they were in Junior High School?"
Cassie: "Oh, a lot different."
Me: "Oh. Uh... How are they different? Different clothes? Different makeup? More makeup?"
Loud, lengthy sigh and eye-roll from Cassie followed my questions. She shifted her stance, made it wider and pivoted her body to completely face me, almost as if she anchored herself to the ground as the complete uneducated idiocy of my question rocked her world.
Cassie: "The guys are a lot different. One guy even came up to me at lunch with a hotdog on his tray and said, 'Hey, want a bite of my wienie?' and I said, 'No, thanks.' And there are men in the hallways."
Me, afraid to ask and yet worried about her safety: "Men? Why are men in your hallways at school? Like teachers? Police men? Other parents? That doesn't seem right. Should I call some-"
Cassie, clearly done with my first-time-high-school-mom-panic-attack interrupts: "No! The guys have beards! Like seniors. They have beards!"
She abruptly turned and exited the room. I curled up into the fetal position and rocked back and forth on the rug.
As I haven't completely figured out this new parenting stage, I am still learning, observing as asking myself "What would Cliff and Claire Huxtable from the Cosby Show do?"
Today is Monday. Yes, the Monday I referenced way back in the beginning of today's post. Today is McDonald's Monday. And today, I will let my freshman daughter ride in the car with her new sophomore friend, and they will drive to meet a bunch of her other sophomore friends at McDonald's because some cute guy works there. (It took me the entire weekend to learn that piece of information.) I googled the distance between her high school and McDonald's (1.72 miles) and decided to give her permission. My daughter has her cell phone to call me, and I am picking her up from McDonald's to meet her friends.
And I'm a nervous wreck. Did I just make the biggest parenting mistake I've ever made? Or is this the first of many high school milestones I should celebrate?
Have you gone through this with your child? What did you decide? What advice do you have for me as I stumble in the dark trying to parent a high school teen?