That Smile

On Monday she starts high school in the middle of a pandemic, and can I say how scared I am that she turned fourteen today? Not because of remote learning where she’ll miss out on all the things she loves the most–the feel of clay spinning on a wheel, chatting with friends at lunch, swirling her beautiful dress at the Homecoming dance–but because I’m afraid she’ll lose her sweet self to adolescent angst and hate me, and all of my words and questions and worries, as bitterly as her two older sisters seem to on any given day.

I can’t ask, “How was your class?” without it seeming like an intrusion. If one is crying, I am not allowed to know why. If one is angry, I must leave the door close or there could be an outburst. If one is happy, it’s not because of something nice I did or something funny I said–it’s something I couldn’t possibly understand, some teenage colloquialism or TikTok phenomenon.

And my baby is sweet, kind, and generous. She has her faults, as everyone does, and probably doesn’t get the attention I need to give her, and her studies have suffered because of this. But the thought of her entering high school terrifies me because parenting is so hard on a good day and so horrible on a bad day, and how many good days do I have left with four teens in the house?

It becomes a daily mental battle: what did I do wrong this time? What could I/should I have done? Why didn’t I…?

And I just want that sweet face. That eternal gratitude. That picture-perfect family that is really anything but. I want her wishes to come true because I helped her, not because she had to figure everything out on her own.

I want to feel safe, not scared. Because if I lose her sweet love, what love is left?