She is hanging on to the end of a frayed rope, she tells me, recounting a recent battle with her daughter. How the seventh grader begged and pleaded for five straight hours (five!) to get a confiscated cell phone back. How the little twerp first wailed, then bargained, and finally, stomped outside without a coat on, flatly refusing to come back inside.
As I listen, I try to remember what it was like to share living space with a thirteen year old girl. I picture my own daughter at the same age, whose teen years were strawberries and whipped cream by comparison. I dig even deeper into the recesses of my blurry, menopausal, mind to remember what I was like at that age, too.
Here’s what I recall. Thirteen wasn’t pretty. Not by a long shot.
My friend is tired and a whole lot older than I was when I was raising teens. This doesn’t help. You have to to have a lot of energy to deal with Thirteen. You can’t be off your game, even for a minute, I remind her. Thirteen is sneaky, I say. She doesn’t really hate you, I say. She doesn’t really want to live with her best friend’s family, I say.
I hear silence and then sniffling on the other end of the line. She tells me she doesn’t have time for thirteen. I tell her that “not having time” isn’t one of her options, knowing that, as we speak, Thirteen is upstairs in the pink bedroom with the One Direction posters on the wall planning her next air strike.
Thirteen is bubblegum scented lip gloss and black nail polish. It is much too short and much too tight and much too much of everything but a lick of compassion for other people. It is bedroom doors slamming and tears. Thirteen is going to bed a child and waking up a woman, ready or not. It is “you can’t make me!” and “Emily hates me!” and “you’ve ruined my life!” Thirteen is the lead actress standing at center stage with an imaginary audience hanging on every word.
These days, my battle weary friend wonders if she’ll make it out of the theater alive.
If we’re very lucky, we get to raise a daughter. There’s no other relationship like it. But we want so darn much for girls, don’t we? We want them to know how amazing they are, how lovely, how smart. At thirteen, all they want from us is their cell phone back.
She tells me she thinks her daughter might be acting out because she’s adopted and I smile at my end of the line. She worries that the behaviors are a result of some deep seated psychological issue that therapy will uncover and then, in time, address. That her girl will ultimately return to being the child she was a year ago. Sweet and compliant and not utterly insane.
I listen. Perhaps, I tell her. Perhaps.
Or maybe, I tell her, she is just Thirteen.