My daughter is twelve. Sometimes I wake at dawn, from a dream that she is gone, and my heart pounds for her.
I remember being twelve. Getting so warm, chasing each other at recess, that we took off our coats. The girls took them off, hot from running. The boys took them off, I see now, so we couldn’t touch their coat tails and make them it.
Kids are cooler now. They stand around at recess and watch YouTube music videos on their phones. It is illicit. The lyrics tell them all they long to know. They do not own a radio.
My radio was always on, in my bedroom, with a white eyelet comforter on the bed and pink roses on the wallpaper. I wrote a poem about a tinny radio that hid a beer cap underneath. It was published in my all girls’ high school literary magazine.
Today kids post their poetic creations in Tweets and Skype and texts and Instagrams. It is instant. Everyone talking at once. Scientists say the dopamine centers light up when we click so fast like this. They are getting high, with their fingers and eyes, in their rooms.
I had one best friend. We sat in one of our rooms, our mothers divorced and hardly home, leaving us alone. We listened to the radio and read books. It was where my vision of the perfect relationship gained hooks.
I recently took my daughter and her BFF to Target to get swimsuits for the summer. In the dressing room one door over, I heard them say, “We are going to have the best bikinis this summer! We look stunning!” I said a grateful prayer to the self-esteem gods.
I can’t remember ever feeling stunning in a dressing room mirror. Maybe one time, in a fancy store in New York, but when I got the dress home, I realized the image had been distorted. Buying something too expensive on a whim can be like that.
Yesterday, my daughter announced she was on a diet. That meant she “wasn’t eating anything.” I tried to talk to her about exercise. Anorexia. She is already thin. I had no good words for this. I was terrified.
As the weather heats up, I remember other things. Reading Wifey with my friend. An end-of-year party in her basement with girls and boys standing around while Rod Stewart sang, “If you want my body and you think I’m sexy . . . ”
I want to go back to my tiny self and say, “Stop! You don’t need all this! No bottle to spin! No late night talks! No notes passed in class! No long walks! Just write in your journal! Read all you can! Your life will be wonderful! You will marry a fine man!”
I wouldn’t have listened to myself back then. That summer we were twelve, my best friend and I came downstairs for her mother to take us to the movies. “I hope you have a lot of money,” she said. “Why?” we asked. “Because with that much makeup on, you’ll have to pay full price.” We went upstairs and washed it off.
I don’t want to nag my daughter. I cherish when she comes to me and asks, “How do these shorts look with this shirt?” or “Do you think I should get bangs?” I don’t want to push her away.
When I have those nightmares, that she is running away from me down the street, or a tsunami is about to crash on her, or she is not waiting where we were supposed to meet, I think about how she mostly comes to me for advice on her looks. I am thinking how these questions might be a cover for something deeper. That she, too, might be lost and spinning.
And I think of how many poems I created out of that spinning place. The terror of the tsunami. The time after it has crashed. The lonely streets you wait on. The cars you get into. Learning to walk again on your own road after the cars are gone. Learning to drive your own car, on roads you yourself choose to drive upon.
I know she has to grow away from me. But I want her to return to me, tell me stories of where she’s been and that the roads she rode were those she chose instead of being driven.
I invite you to write an essay or a short story (800-1000 words) about the relationship between a mother and a child during adolescence to be published in the next “Birthing the Mother Writer” column. Please email your submission to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[dot]com by June 10th. Be sure to put “Birthing the Mother Writer: 4” in the subject line, include a brief bio and place the text and of your piece and your bio in the body of the email. By sending in your submission, you agree that your piece, if chosen for publication, may receive gentle suggestions for revision from Cassie Premo Steele (many people feel this is the best part of the process!), and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication within two weeks.