At the end of the month, Chloe will celebrate her 14th birthday. She remains relatively amiable and hasn’t yet entirely forsaken the family unit in search of greener pastures with her friends. I count myself lucky that she still wants to spend time with us, even if she has taken to spending more solitary hours in her girl-woman cave, aka her bedroom.
I’ve started to notice other subtle changes in our interactions, too. We still talk, but not as often as we used to. She’ll arrive home from school and spend five minutes answering my questions and ingesting a second lunch before retiring to her lair until her stomach tells her it’s almost dinner time and she yells, “Mom, when are we eating? What are we having?”
I was once her age. And probably not all that different. But, boy, is it irksome that as she ventures deeper into the black hole of teenageddon, she frequently tends to initiate conversation only when she wants or needs something. She has a tell, too – her voice takes on this abnormally high-pitched and friendly tone, one that has never come naturally to her (and never will).
I find myself observing her as if she were an enigma to be solved. When I ask her a question and she contemplates her response, I wonder to what extent she tells me one thing while thinking something completely different. My imagination runs wild. To wit:
My Question: How was school today?
Chloe’s Response: It was fine. Nothing interesting happened.
What Chloe is Really Thinking: Mom, stop being so damn nosy. I will never, even under penalty of death, tell you when I have a boyfriend because you will annoy the crap out of me every hour of every day until I give you details. I’d rather be stricken with laryngitis for a year before talking to you about anything like that.
My Question: Will you please walk the dog?
Chloe’s Response: [Deep sigh and roll of eyes as she continues to study her iPhone screen]. OK. Give me a minute.
What Chloe is Really Thinking: You treat me like an indentured servant. Can’t you see I’m busy watching this dumbass guy pop an enormous zit on YouTube [yes, these videos exist in spades]? You care more about Truffle than me.
My Question: Can you babysit Sophie this weekend? We’ll pay you.
Chloe’s Response: I guess so. But, mom, I don’t want you to pay me to watch my own sister. That’s just so…no. You can’t pay me.
What Chloe is Really Thinking: Mom, you know I truly believe I deserve to be paid. Besides, I spent all of my money buying holiday gifts for everyone because I’m such a generous daughter, sister and friend. So, while I know ‘no’ means ‘no’ when it comes to having autonomy over my own body, in this particular instance, my ‘no’ means ‘yes.’ Please don’t screw me over.
My Question: How are you doing with your homework?
Chloe’s Response: Fine.
What Chloe is Really Thinking: Again with the homework! Have I ever let you and Papa down? I’ll get it done. Geez. I’m practically 14 years old. In the Middle Ages, I would have been married and a mother at least twice over by now. So I can handle my stupid homework, for crying out loud. Leave me alone.
My Question: Do you want to take a walk with me?
Chloe’s Response: Maybe. When?
What Chloe is Really Thinking: If I go, you have to behave. Under no circumstances are you allowed to subject me to an inquisition. I’ll never go on a walk with you again if you subject me to an inquisition. And if you grill me, I’ll just spin a good yarn to get you to shut up.
My Question: Will you please clean your room today?
Chloe’s Response: [Moaning]. Ok, maybe.
What Chloe is Really Thinking: My room is my castle. I don’t understand why you care about it so much. God, I can’t wait until I go away to college. I’ll be living hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from you and you won’t be able to do anything about my messy room. Freedom, here I come!
My Question: Are you sure you want to return to sleepaway camp this summer? Aren’t you getting too old for it?
Chloe’s Response: If you and Papa can afford it, I really want to go one last time. I love sleepaway camp. It’s so much fun!
What Chloe is Really Thinking: Can’t you hear the desperation in my voice? This is my last chance before college to evade your crazy annoying questions for more than a day at a time. My mental health is at stake. Our mother-daughter relationship is at stake. My life is at stake. I exaggerate not!