Saturday, August 23, 2008

Turning Fifteen

My first baby was born fifteen years ago today, and what a long, strange trip it's been! As her party guests gather for the obligatory sleepover, I'm thinking of previous parties; ones where I filled up the wading pools and we had a backyard waterslide, and more recent ones for which my major role was to provide chips, pizza, soda, cake, and ice cream. It's no longer acceptable to order pizza. The fifteen-year-olds in Eleanor's social circle now prefer chinese food, and I have brewed three jars full of various kinds of tea for today's ten guests.

The biggest change I've had to get used to in my career as mother of a teenager is that she now gets almost all of my jokes, even the sly, quiet ones. I think this started about the time we were in one of those butterfly gardens where the butterflies can fly around you, and we saw one lying quiescent on a leaf. "It's sleeping" I said, with an exaggerated expression. Eleanor's face immediately registered recognition--it's what I've always said to her about those quiescent butterflies, but she suddenly understood that I meant the big sleep. And she enjoyed the joke on her former self.

I used to always put money in those mechanical horses and wait for Eleanor to ride at the end of a grocery or "mart" shopping trip. It always seemed to me the least I could do for a toddler who had put up with all the shopping that had to be done. But I exaggerated other dangers (like germs on the handle of the shopping cart and the mechanical horse) quite as much as the mother in this poem, Outside the Mainway Market, by Catherine Doty:

Every day, our mother says,
kids die on those goddamned things,
and she nods at the lone yellow horse
with the red vinyl bridle
and four black, shining hooves
like police hat brims.
Not only do we stop our five-part
begging, we walk wide around the beast,
though Mary brushes the coin box
with her sleeve.

Rigid in flight, the great horse's legs
flange out toward us. Not one of us argues.
We hold onto our mother's coat, cross
several streets, touch the dog we always touch
when we walk home, fingering
his freckled snout. Then we scream
and run in the yard while supper cooks,
and the sky shudders pale for some seconds
before it darkens, as if in that lavender moment,
three blocks away, a child drops
the reins and gasps as his shoes fly off,
and plumes of smoke rise
from the crown of his hand-knit hat.

What is charming about having a fifteen-year-old like mine is that even though I can no longer exaggerate dangers, she's internalized most of what I'd warn her about, anyway, so the manner of old warnings becomes an inside joke. I'm becoming the mother voice inside her head, and so will never really die. BWA-HA-HA-HA!!!


mythusmage said...

Eleanor, there's a good reason why Mom is always ready to kill you when you do something thoughtless. It's because when she was 15 she was just as stupid at you.

Jeanne said...

Well, yeah...otherwise, how would I know what dangers to exaggerate???

lemming said...

lemming: I think she is.
JB: Nah - do you think so?
lemming: Absolutely.
JB: You know, I think you might be right.
lemming: probably most tactful not to ask, tough...

Maybe not the most spiritual conversation to have had in church, but still a fond memory.

Jeanne said...

Yeah, I carried Eleanor for six months before people began to ask. Tall women can do that.

lemming said...

A pox upon you!