She has come back to us, if only briefly.
She was the little girl who fought bedtime to stay up with us a little longer, who told me I worked too much and didn’t spend enough time with her. The girl who seemed to have a flashing neon sign turned on throughout childhood: Engage with me. Engage. Engage.
Suddenly though, at age 14, while I was wrapping my head around the idea that we only had four more years with her, she disappeared into her bedroom and stayed there, as if she had already gone to college. Weekends were sleepovers at friends’ houses. Conversations were “fine” and “thanks.” No more jumping on the trampoline with our 11-year-old son, who wondered where his pal had gone. It accelerated a couple of years later when she got a car. She forgot she was supposed to tell us where she was, thinking telling us she was going to her friend’s was enough, even If it was six hours and four stops later before she came home. Nagging helped, because she’s a good kid.
We adjusted to not being needed anymore. It was natural for her to spread her wings and build her own life. “I don’t hate you,” she said once by way of explanation, which we knew. My husband and I settled in to weekly TV show rituals with our son and very occasionally coaxed her to spend a half hour with the family here and there.
But sometime in the summer before senior year, at 17, things changed. College visits were planned. Question upon question asked. Essays needed to be proofed; lists needed to be discussed. Life seemed more complex, and evenings with the family on the living room couch seemed more enticing. The election season, which alternately fascinated and appalled her, helped, too. I cherished these discussions. She was ours again, needing us, engaging with us, sometimes even just wanting to sit with us. I worried all the college talk and college preparations were driving our younger one crazy, but I was afraid to break the spell. I just kept asking questions: Do you think you want to add that one to your list? When’s the scholarship deadline? What do you like about that program?
I know that after the deadlines pass, and the weight is lifted — Jan. 1 at the latest but probably sooner — she may feel the pressure ease and go enjoy the rest of her senior year with her friends, as she should. We’ll talk about the election results together, maybe watch the inauguration. But hanging out in the living room might again give way to dinners out with the girls. Or maybe with a boy we haven’t met yet.
And then, a whirlwind summer and we’ll be packing up the car and saying goodbye, with visits home that try to squeeze in “seeing everyone,” and I know that doesn’t really mean us.
But for now I am so happy for these months when I have her back again, even for a little while — to revel in how determined she is now, how mature she’s become, how much more beautiful she grows every day. It is a gift I didn’t expect, and I am grateful.
Meanwhile, our son has turned 14 and is spending more time in his room. I’m marking the calendar for 2019.
Jennifer Orsi is the mother of a high school senior and freshman and lives in Tampa, Fla. She has been a journalist for 28 years and is managing editor of the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest newspaper. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.