Even as She Barely Speaks to Me, I Try to Do This for My Daughter

She is eighteen, and she has had her beautiful light brown hair bleached to a Barbie blond. When I ask how her day was, she may say, “Good–my math test wasn’t as bad as I thought, and at lunch, Charlotte said something so funny…” or she may say, “FINE” in a way that means BACK OFF.

She may cheerfully help with dinner, or she may give me dead eyes just for asking her to chop a carrot, like I’ve asked her to clean the gutters. When I head upstairs to bed (always before she does, always), she may give me a hug and nestle her head into my shoulder, or she may flick her eyes up at me with disdain and mutter a mildly condescending “Goodnight” as though she’s doing me a favor. 

I never know if my daughter will be cheerful or just barely acknowledge me. (Shutterstock Georgian Bay Boudoir)

My daughter is a high school senior

She is a senior. 

We have four kids and have always had a “no rudeness” rule in the house, bad mood or not. Generally, it worked well, even when the girls were fourteen (generally considered the worst age for girls) or when the boys were fifteen and sixteen (the worst age for boys).

But senior year is its own beast: A strange hinterland when your sunny child is navigating a sort of Upside-down world, like in Stranger Things, when the characters are trapped in the high school fighting Demogorgons, and they can see the real world in fuzzy shadows but when they try to touch it, it vanishes.   

In the movies, senior year is all championships, proms and school musicals. The students are having their joyful, last hurrah at whatever their thing is, and the parents are on the sidelines cheering. Confetti rains down at the end, and memories are made.

Senior year starts off strong but then the waiting begins

In real life, senior year starts out with big-fish, fun stuff, like homecoming and the first football game, but second semester is more like a Samuel Beckett play, where nothing happens and everyone is just waiting. Waiting for college acceptance, waiting for a new chapter, and waiting for adulthood, which we’ve arbitrarily decided is age eighteen, even though not a one of them is ready.

In this odd no man’s land that is senior year, we simultaneously tell eighteen year-olds that they can vote and get adult jobs and go to a university and pick a major in a few months, but for now, they need a hall pass just to go to the bathroom. So they push us away, mostly in little ways.

Then they regret it, consciously or unconsciously, and reach back to figuratively grab our hand again, which embarrasses them on some level, so they push us away again. Over and over, until graduation, which, (what with the caps and gowns and parties and literal Pomp and Circumstance), is set up to fuel their endorphins enough to last almost until August when it’s time to start the next chapter. 

I let my daughter know I’m here if she needs me

So, bleached hair, a second earring, and an I don’t need you air hovering around her like Pigpen’s little dirt cloud, and I’m just supposed to wait. Wait for her to want to hug me once in a blue moon, and let her know that I’m here if she gets in any real trouble, but that from here on out, most of her troubles need to be solved by her alone.

I’ll walk by her room and smile a little if the door is open, but the days of knocking and asking about homework or friends are over. The days of me having much of a say about her hair are over, since she paid for the highlights herself. I’ll hand her five bucks once in a while if her friends are going to Starbucks, or offer to pay for half of the prom dress, but let her know that budgeting for her social life is going to be on her.

And I will remind myself every time she pushes me away that I was like this, too, and that for all her blustering senior bravado, this is hard. Adulthood is calling with its siren song, and childhood is saying Don’t Go, and the adults are saying “wait a few more months.”

No wonder they’re all a little crazy.

More Great Reading:

High School Senior Year: Wishing For a Little More Time

About Paige Johnson

Paige Johnson is a teacher, writer, and professional singer in the DC area. Most importantly, she is a mom to four young adults who are picking colleges and sometimes attending them, getting their first jobs, and coming back home to do laundry. Paige lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband and whichever kids are home that week, and teaches high school English and Creative Writing.

Read more posts by Paige

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