When all the kids are home it’s sort of magical. They sometimes live in their own world, orbiting and multiple times a day they cross orbits with me. It’s easy to see why this happens, I work for a full 8 or 9 hours and there’s a good 45 minute commute each way. Given that they aren’t around me all the time.
When my oldest isn’t home that orbit is a little less even. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, there’s just a change in the dynamic. My oldest is, literally, four years younger than I was when I had her. That’s a strange thing to think about. The other three don’t defer to her, they don’t treat her like their mother. They treat the situation in the unique way it is: she’s home and they are making the most of their time with her.
Yet when my oldest had to leave for a day for something school related she talked about a friend’s relationship with their father . . . and that same person’s sister’s relationship to their father, too. It’s not far from what my middle daughter does with me. She argues with me. She combats me, nearly on every little thing – even if it’s something really small and I’m simply making an observation.
In short…she’s a teenager.
I make no secret that my middle child has hit puberty full-force and she knows I say so here. I see reflections of how dismissive, rude, and impolite I was as a teenager and it makes me shudder. When I say something eight times and hear nothing in return only to see she’s had headphones on her head the whole time I want to rip them off her ears.
Yet the discussion with my oldest revealed what I am sure happens in a lot of homes. Detached kids, moodiness, anger, even combative discussions.
Okay . . . yes, I have that with my daughter. My relationship with every child, though, is completely different. What I do with one son I won’t do with another. What I say to my sons I don’t necessarily say to my daughters.
The biggest thing that stands out to me, though, is the fact that my middle daughter doesn’t avoid time around me, she avoids time around everyone. That’s what teens try to do. Yet at the end of every night, whatever happens, my daughter gives me a hug goodnight. I kiss her on the cheek and she says “I love you, papa” . . . a habit she’s taken to since her Italian classes started. I cannot think of a day that has not happened.
So even when she’s at her moodiest or I am angry or we clash . . . we end the day knowing one thing all five of us have known since we started this journey by ourselves:
My daughter Hannah is one of the sweetest, happiest, most kind individuals I’ve ever known.
Most of the time.
In the last few months, though, I’ve noticed a change in her. It’s not for the worse, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like somehow the influx of hormones hit overdrive and I’m having to deal with a teenager who’s still struggling with their own identity. Now, before you tell me that’s every teenager, I get that. But it’s never been Hannah.
Hannah was always the little girl joined to her Mom’s hip. She loved her Grandma – my Mom – sometimes to the ire of Andrea, my wife, who thought she had Hannah as a complete and utter kindred spirit. Hannah once, as a 3 or 4-year-old, after getting a new nightgown and a pair of fuzzy slippers from my mother wasn’t understanding that my parents were leaving to go home. Hannah had grabbed a paper bag and inserted her teddy bear, the same said slippers, a second pair of pajamas and was waiting by the door to get into my folks’ car. When my Mom informed her that she had to stay at her own house Hannah was crushed. Tears welled up in the corners of her giant brown eyes and she said, huffing in tears the whole while, “but I wanted to go with you Grandma!”
That was Hannah. The little, loving, sweet kid.
Now it’s Hannah the teenager.
Yeah, sure, there’s the acne that’s started. More than that is my having to constantly ask her if she’s used the face wash and cleaned up and washed her hair. I’m constantly telling her to take her hair out of her eyes, not because it bothers me but because she can’t see what’s in front of her and is constantly saying so.
“I’m going to take you to the salon and get you a pixie cut,” I told her recently.
“A pixie cut . . . you know, short hair like that girl on Once Upon a Time. She looks good in it, and she’s a brunette.”
I’m still pulling the daggers out of my chest she shot from her eyes.
Now, while I deserved that irksome response, others I don’t. Tonight was the best example.
I got home, unable yet again to cook due to the lack of counter space. It’s not that my kitchen is too small, it’s because the dishes I’d ordered her to do seemed to have duplicated like rabbits. I had no pans to cook.
A year ago I made a deal with my kids: I’ll cook. If you have a meal you prefer, I’ll make it. I’ll make desserts for your lunches. Heck, I make their lunches. I’ll do that, the laundry, vacuum . . . all they have to do is the dishes so I can cook.
Needless to say I’m the only one making good on the deal.
So when I got home to the mess and Hannah walked in, annoyed, yelling – nay, screaming – at her brother and then ordered me to fill out a field trip form it was my turn to give a look that would kill.
But it didn’t take.
“Daaaaaad! It’s due tomorrow!”
“I know, I got emails from your teacher, the room mother, coordinator . . . everybody. I’ll fill it out.”
“No . . . you need to fill it out now!”
That’s when I lost it. Truly, completely, lost it.
“Oh . . . really?! You want to eat tonight? I have no room, no pans, no forks, no dishes from a kitchen that I was told would be clean when I got home and your most important issue is a form I already knew I had to fill out?!”
She got angry and started raising her voice. She was, you see, right in her mind.
I bring this up because of several things:
1) she’s hormonal, 13, and just being a teen. I get that.
2) Before you get mad at me, it’s still true…Hannah gets horrible PMS, just like her mother did. Now it’s added to the hormones
3) This is the hardest…she’s showing signs and signals of acting like her mother. Just like her mother.
I loved Andrea, let me be firm on that. There were 10 million things about her I adored. Her anger over random things was not one of them. It’s hard thing to look into the face of my 13-year-old brunette daughter with the brown eyes and see the angry, fiery rhetoric of the blonde haired blue eyed woman I met twenty-odd years ago. I also worry because that behavior didn’t help her mother, not one bit. It didn’t scare me away because I could help her control it. I don’t want Hannah to have to look at working on that for too many years.
But it dawned on me that there are a number of differences. I have genes and DNA of my own floating around in her body there, too. I also am not married to this girl, I’m her father. Andrea was an equal and usually there was something that stressed her out and I could find the root cause of her anger. For Hannah, it’s the random stresses of the day she thinks are most important. Where with Andrea I had to come to compromises and was often far too deferential, with Hannah it’s different. I love her to death, but this isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.
“I have every intention of filling out yours, Noah’s and Sam’s forms. I will fill out your registration packet for high school. I have it all on a big list in my freaking head. The thing you should worry about more, though, is the fact that I’m going to take away your guitar . . . again . . . if this kitchen isn’t cleaned up!”
It’s hard for me to see the darker side of Andrea coming out in my child. Hannah and I have conflicts often because there was such a closeness between the two of them and a distance between the two of us. We’re not like oil and water. She hugs me every day, talks to me constantly and the horror I thought she’d face in losing her Mom isn’t as horrific as either of us thought.
Still . . . I’ve come to realize there are things I have to face that genetically bleed through in her hormones, PMS, and mentality. It’s hard to see and face because it does . . . once in awhile . . . remind me of the best and the worst of her mother. I miss all of her, not just the good parts, and she unwittingly lets them all bleed through at once.
But by tonight’s end, I saw the best as well. When the four of them finally stopped fighting and the calm hit the room, they smiled as I read a chapter of a book to Noah and Sam and Hannah peeked in the doorway.
Of course . . . I had managed to fill out all five field trip forms, too.
It was then I saw the sparkle in her eyes and the happiness again. It was then I saw the smile, the combination of all four of them smiling, and I saw the best of her mother too.
That’s when I knew she really was her mother’s daughter.