Teen Talk

4 degrees this morning when my older daughter leaves for work. Rain is forecast for tomorrow. Freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw — classic New England weather. We’re now into the final descent into darkness. Evenings, we hang out — homework and reading — and often just talking. No one’s heading out for an evening run, a last long walk before nightfall, because these days nightfall is in the afternoon.

My older daughter reads aloud about what it’s like to live in the Arctic Circle.

My 14-year-old and I spend a day driving around in Burlington, doing errands and a little Christmas shopping and I buy her a toasted cheese and ham sandwich she loves. For the first time, I notice she’s watching the college students. Waiting in line for that sandwich, we’re surrounded by a very tall men’s athletic team. They’re buying enormous containers of juice and talking about what that night might turn into, and a friend of theirs who has taken a job as a horticulturist at a well-known college. What’s the difference, they muse, between horticulturist and agriculturist?

Only much later, talking with her older sister that night, do I realize how intently this quiet teen has taken in that talk, how she’s imagining the multiple possibilities for her young adult life, not so very far off.

At a stoplight, she asked me what it’s like to be a college student. I thought back to my six years in school — four as an undergraduate, two in graduate school. What’s six years in a life? A lot, or not so much. She waited for my answer. Finally, I said, It’s like nothing else.

Likewise, a year from now she’ll be driving me around, with her learner’s permit. About parenting? From toddler to teen? It’s like nothing else.

There are many times as a parent when you realize that your job is not to be the parent you always imagined you’d be, the parent you always wished you had. Your job is to be the parent your child needs, given the particulars of his or her own life and nature.

Ayelet Waldman



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