My almost-thirteen-year-old girl still lives with us–at least I think so. Sometimes I’ll hear a sudden burst of laughter or a snatch of her singing emanate from the direction of her bedroom, so I’m pretty sure she’s in there.
I see so many images of the American teenager, jokes about their refusal to look happy in front of their parents, their retreat into the world of their headphones, cell phones, video games. It’s a stereotype. And it’s one I was sure we were avoiding. We have family time–Friday night dinners, movie night, post-Sunday-school lunches out, walks. We used to have a story time and a game night, but the kids couldn’t agree on the books, and now my daughter won’t play board games. So we have game night with our son.
But it feels wrong. She finishes her dinner before the rest of us, and she leaves the table, disappearing into her room in a hurry to get back to One Direction, FaceTime with her BFFs, her DS, her drawing. We’ll get home from school, and she’ll put her stuff down and disappear. When we are sitting in the living room reading or talking or watching something our son wants us to see on his iPad, she’s in her room. When we watched Cosmos as a family, she was willing to be in the room with us, but she was otherwise occupied.
I have confronted her, especially since she spends all that time in her bed. I know what depression looks like, and this has me worried. She insists she’s not depressed. Most recently she told me her room is the only place she “fits in.” But how could this be true? Her friends love her, her family loves her, we are always trying to get her to spend time with us. She’s smart and funny and fun to hang out with. I have even made a rule that she is allowed a certain amount of alone time after school, and then she needs to COME OUT OF HER ROOM.
This has been bothering me for a while, but tonight it really hit me. I was out with the dog and the kids, having asked them to come with me on a walk. My son insisted on riding his scooter, and my daughter insisted on bringing her phone and headphones. She could not hear me when I spoke to her, and she made such a show of pausing the music so I could repeat myself that I just said “never mind” and walked on. I’m the grownup. I make the rules. But I’m human, and this hurts. I was walking alone, the dog intent on squirrels, my son hell-bent on self-destruction, my daughter lost to the song Harry Styles was singing just to her. Maybe this is the way of things. She is growing up, separating herself from me, having opinions different from mine, wanting ideas just for herself.
I want her to be independent, to have thoughts and opinions. But I also want to guide her, to help her think about the world so that those opinions are grounded in something beyond a rumor spread on the internet. I want to help her negotiate friendships and middle school and puberty and mean kids. I want to make sure she knows what to do in moments of danger.
She is open with me about a lot of things that many kids are not. Her confidences give me hope that she sees me as a safe person, as someone who can be trusted with her secrets or confused pubescent sense of self. We share many happy moments, singing, lusting after Harry, joking, being gross, cuddling. But the spaces between these moments are growing wider every day. So I treasure them, because I know I’ll spend the rest of my life missing her more often than not.