Thursday, March 14, 2013

Aaaaand, She's Off!

I got up at four this morning to drop Twelve off at school, where she joined the rest of her seventh grade class to begin their field trip to Washington, DC. Don't tell her, but inside her suitcase are three copies of Out of My Mind (chosen mostly because our local independent book store had three copies, but it turns out to be a fairly highly acclaimed novel) for the girls in her group. It's possible that each pair of socks has a little note folded inside, too.

Basically, I will take any excuse to use the (paper) pinking shears and every color of sharpie. 

Twelve LOVES this sort of thing, even though she tries to act like she's embarrassed. I sneaked a balloon bouquet and a heart-shaped cookie into her locker on [stupid, commercialized, heterosexist] Valentine's Day, and she kind of pretended it wasn't cool even though it quite clearly was. I left a post-it note on her locker after Monday's PTA meeting, and she told me later that she was just glad that she got to it before anyone saw it. Go ahead, pretend you didn't like it, I'll play along.

We've been really focused on preparing for the DC trip for several weeks now. Despairing of Twelve ever caring enough about her terrible posture to try very hard to develop the necessary muscles, I finally decided to just flat-out bribe her with cold hard cash since I knew she'd be wanting spending money for the trip. I used the same strategy that was so successful in eliminating extraneous uses of the word 'like' from her speech patterns; I wrote "$100" at the top of a piece of paper and deducted a dollar every time I had to remind her to stand up straight. Combined with the physical therapy exercises that she more or less bothered to do occasionally, that did the trick. She now looks much, much better (the real reason I care) and will avoid back problems and pain later in life (the reason the insurance company will continue to pay for physical therapy).

It occurred to me just a couple of weeks ago that Twelve, for all that she is known at school as a social butterfly and incorrigible chatterbox, is truly an introvert. She's been spending hours each day and entire days on the weekends puttering around her room and reading, but I didn't connect the dots until she skipped a Young Life meeting and came straight home after school, saying that she just didn't feel like she'd had enough time at home lately. Oh, crap, I thought. Nine days with other people constantly around just might actually kill her. Trying not to be one of those freaked-out moms, I brought it up with her group chaperone, who reassured me that she would make sure that there was plenty of down time and that she'd be on the lookout for Twelve needing time alone. I told Twelve that yeah, it's kind of a dick move, but she could always just shut herself into the bathroom for an unnecessarily long shower if she needed to. Desperate times call for desperate measures, after all.

Spring volleyball started last week, which just gave us one more thing to fit into the week. Who thinks that 7:15-8:45 pm is a reasonable hour for middle school volleyball open gyms and observation sessions? Not me, that's for sure, and throwing that into the mix required Twelve to think very strategically about her packing and laundry plans.

Ah, packing. I told Twelve that she could use my wonderful red rolling suitcase (it has wheels on all four corners, which is the best suitcase feature ever), but no. She wanted to borrow my cousin's Big Purple Suitcase. Twelve used to use it for her trips to visit her dad until the airlines started charging for checked bags. I told her that she should pack light, since she has to maneuver her own luggage from the bus to the airport and from the airport to the hotel on the Metro, but she insisted. I gave in, partially, and said that she could take the Big Purple Suitcase on the condition that she contacted my cousin on her own and only if my cousin was willing to drop it off. Since I failed to quickly warn my cousin to say no, she very kindly brought the suitcase over.

It's a good thing that airlines have luggage weight restrictions, because Twelve is a very thorough packer and it is a very large case. 

The planning continued right up until bedtime last night. R had just returned home from a six-week work stint in Costa Rica, and as I was tucking Twelve in, it occurred to him that he has a few dead birds to deliver to the Museum of Natural History (we have quite a collection in the unused ice maker compartment of our freezer), and wouldn't it be cool if she took them with her to hand-deliver to the curator. Yes, it would be pretty damn cool to be the seventh grader who posts up at the information desk with a few dead birds that the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History doesn't have yet. We all discussed the impracticalities of this idea, given that we don't happen to keep dry ice on hand and that transporting frozen carcasses is probably frowned upon by seventh grade trip coordinators (if not outright banned by the TSA). Eventually Twelve - who was becoming increasingly enthralled by the idea of being such an important person - suggested that R could mail the birds to her at the hotel.

We are pretty sure we can get a package to her in time for their scheduled trip to the museum, but R is getting conflicting information on the process for properly packing and shipping bird specimens, so we'll see.

If that doesn't work out, perhaps she will run into the acquaintance who reports via Facebook that she, too, will be in DC on Saturday. Twelve already can't go on a school trip in our town without running into an adult she knows from something or other, and has shared at least one cross-country flight with someone we know, so why not encounter a friendly face in the nation's capital?

I got a phone call a few hours ago from somebody's dad, the guy at the top of the phone tree, with the information that they arrived at the hotel and were eating dinner. Okay, that's great news, even though I did kind of assume that that's what would happen, so I proceeded to call the next person on the tree. Trouble is, nobody (but me, apparently) answers unfamiliar numbers anymore, so I ended up calling every single person all the way down the list and leaving messages. I'd like to give a special shout-out to the mother who was on vacation; thanks so much for putting your work number on the phone tree. I really enjoyed trying to explain things to whoever that was who answered, especially since he had no idea what was going on and did not feel authorized to give me your cell number. If I ever get that far down with the message-leaving again, I'm going to skip you entirely. Have a great vacation.

Twelve called to say goodnight - I was very clear that I expect a call every night, we'll see what happens - and it was an absolutely classic call of obligation: "Hi mom, I'm going to bed now, bye!" Hold on a second there, sweetie. How was your flight? "Good." How was the bus ride to the airport? "Good." How was getting from the airport to the hotel? "Good. Oh, we got the presents, thank you!" Okay, you're welcome, goodnight.

Thus begins my week-long holiday from parental responsibility. I'm sure I have big 'woo-hoo, the kiddo's out of town' plans around here someplace ... 

Monday, March 11, 2013

On Passing

Passing. Passing counterfeit money, passing for white, passing for hetero, passing the salt, passing as upper-middle-class.

Counterfeiters use fancy paper and ink, nonwhites use their white-looking physical features, gay men and lesbians use heteronormative assumptions, and in our household salt uses a turquoise Vernon Kilns shaker c. 1940.

Twelve uses thrift shop clothing.

I realized this the other day when we got home from sewing machine hunting with a couple of nearly-new name-brand things for her - I think one of the shirts had its original retail tags still attached - and it occurred to me to ask her if she tells her friends that the new clothes she shows up to school in are purchased secondhand.

She gave me that special look that means I know absolutely nothing and used that special tone of voice that means I am the stupidest person on the planet when she told me that, no, she does not tell them.

I was a bit relieved that she does not - I was raised that it's gauche to talk about how much things cost and I am perfectly fine if observers assume that I pay full price for my jeans at Nordstrom - if for no other reason than to avoid giving anyone a chance to tease her about it. I feel confident that if I had told people that my clothes were handed down from my cousin, I would have been teased.

And then I made the connection. Just like lesbians can tap into hetero privilege by pretending to be straight and mothers can avoid discrimination to the extent that they can successfully pretend they don't have kids, Twelve is using secondhand clothes to fit in with her much wealthier peers. She's passing. It helps hugely that her dad has given her so many of the big-ticket items, of course, but it's Twelve's ability to find Nike shirts and Juicy Couture hoodies for a few dollars apiece that allows her to play the role of a much wealthier child. And the orthodontia - oh, the orthodontia.

She's successful in camouflaging our relatively lower income bracket, as far as I can tell. It helps that, if anyone asks what her mother does, the explanation that I'm a graduate student carries quite a bit of cache (in our town at least) without an expectation of a lavish lifestyle. Our car is crappy compared to the other cars in the school parking lot, but I don't feel like it sticks out unreasonably (and at least it isn't a minivan!). Twelve has so far declined all my suggestions that she bring friends home, which saddens me somewhat because I would love to have the home where the teenagers congregate, but I can't blame her because I've been to her friends' houses. Even if the parents agreed with me that our small, rented, century-old house is very cool, the kids probably wouldn't get it. I am getting to know the very nice mother of one of the very nice boys in Twelve's class; she is very down-to-earth and, while I am sure she would not judge us based on the fact that their house is probably five times the size of ours, I think I'd think twice about inviting her here, at least until we've spent more time together.

It's not as if I'm immune to wanting people to think I'm in a higher economic bracket than I really am. I don't go around saying that I buy used jeans or that I get my fancy boots at half price because we have a friend who works for the company.

On the other hand, if my mother could decode the symbols embroidered onto the back pockets of jeans (she can't - hell, I can't either, but I've figured out that it costs fifty bucks for each inseam inch beyond 32, and god knows that after a lifetime of too-short jeans I'll take 36 inches if I can get them), I'd better make sure she knows I paid ten percent of the original retail of those Habituals.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In Which the Contents of Both Barrels are Metaphorically Discharged in Twelve's Direction

I let Twelve have it with both barrels tonight; I pointed a spatula at her, spoke sternly in a raised voice, shut the door hard on my way out, and then performed some basic kitchen tasks with more force than was absolutely necessary.

To preface: We do not shout or slam things, especially our vintage dishes or glass cabinet doors, in this house. If someone (say, me) wishes to make a point, all she has to do is to add a bit of extra emphasis to whatever she's doing (say, putting the leftover tomato paste into a plastic container before going downstairs).

To explain: Lately, Twelve has been asking me to hang out in the bathroom while she showers. It started a couple of weeks ago on a day when I was away from home for some reason or another during the period of time after school and before bedtime. The shower curtains are opaque (she is keen on hiding the bits covered by underwear), I sit on the closed toilet seat and file my nails or trim split ends or whatever, and she talks. It's similar to what happens when we're driving somewhere; she talks to me without having to admit that she's talking to me. Today we missed our teatime because I had a plumbing-related situation to deal with at my rental house and a meeting, so I suggested that we have a bedtime tea, and it turned into me drinking a hot toddy in the bathroom. Lovely, right? 

Anyway, she mentions the latest Coach bag that she wants (barf) and says that she's going to mention it to her dad because he might buy it for her. Okay, fine, let's talk some more about how your dad's household has so much money. Twelve brings this up fairly frequently; I appreciate it because I want her to understand that the reason we don't do x or purchase y is not because I don't love her, but because our household income does not allow it. I hate it because it drives me crazy that he pays less than ten percent of his net income in child support and the disparity between our households is stark.

Stark. As in, I'm driving my second mid-nineties Honda in ten years and (according to Twelve) they've had eleven different new cars in five years.

Twelve is asking questions, and I'm answering them as best I can, and trying to help her understand that wealth is relative (we are very rich compared to some and very poor compared to others) and that, once your basic needs are met, the rest is just gravy. In other words, her dad might have four times as much money as we do, but his expenses are not four times as high, which is why his wife has so many Coach bags.

Somehow, this turns into Twelve talking about how she wants to do ROTC ("Well, I wouldn't be a regular private - those are the ones who always die") and advance quickly in the military until she, too, is making heaps of cash.

You've got to be fucking kidding me. First, Twelve in the military? PLEASE. Second, my child in the military? OVER MY DEAD BODY.

But you can't say that to your kid, not one who wants really, really badly to admire her father even though she's fully aware that he didn't bother to stay in touch with her for the first eight years of her life. We talked about that last week in this very same bathroom, for Pete's sake! I get it, she's conflicted and dealing with it as best she can (which she does very well, by the way). But how do you dissuade her from thinking of a military "career" without telling her that the military sucks? Well, you dissemble a bit; you explain that the military recruits most of its members from high schools in working class and poor neighborhoods. You point out that combat service is required for swift advancement and that women are not allowed in combat. You explain, when she mentions patriotism, that that's a very similar propaganda machine to the one that makes her think that a Coach tote bag is beautiful.

Shockingly, this does not get us very far. Twelve thinks that a TOTE BAG that folds into some sort of SMALLER BAG is both functionally and aesthetically pleasing just because it has the Coach imprimatur. OF COURSE she thinks that the military is a noble cause at the same time that she thinks she can just sign up to be one of the people who gets to advance quickly and avoid death.

Then you explain that the military involves a lot of taking orders, and that she's just not cut out for that. I forget what bullshit response she had to that, something about being the one giving the orders and wanting to get a Purple Heart. YOU HAVE TO GET WOUNDED, REALLY BADLY, TO GET A PURPLE HEART, you exclaim. "Well, I wouldn't" she says. "Well, you might!" you reply; "And you might get raped! Many women in the military are sexually assaulted" you add, for good measure. "Have you ever been raped?" she asks. "It depends on how you define rape," you reply, because you have told her a lot, but you haven't told her that story yet and are pretty sure you don't want to. "Well, I won't. Do you know how many machine guns I'll have?" she says.

And then, in the next breath, she exclaims, "Oh, my nails are just ruined!"

Kind of tired of the whole subject by now, and wishing that your hot toddy wasn't all gone, you respond wearily, "Sweetie, I don't think you're quite cut out to be a soldier" and head for the door.

Obviously thinking she's being cleverly mischievous and about to have the last word, Twelve sticks her face out of the curtain and pipes up with, "Well, I don't think that what my dad did to you was rape."

Back story: Since she doesn't know about the postpartum coercion part, she's referring to the part about how he said he 'just hadn't come that time.'

On multiple occasions.

Not knowing any better and being a trusting person, I believed him.

Pregnancy was the result.

Side note: I will be damned, and by damned I mean condemned to an old-fashioned eternity spent in hell, if I will allow my daughter to make mistakes in ignorance. She can be irresponsible, she can follow the dictates of her incompletely developed frontal lobe, she can make the dumbest of all possible dumb choices, but by golly she'll have as much information as I can give her. When Twelve asks questions about things, I answer them. Truthfully.

And before you get all huffy with me about how horrible it is to allow your child to find out that she was unintentional, let's discuss the percentage of pregnancies in the United States that are unintentional.

Forty-nine percent. That's right, almost half of the women who get pregnant each year did not get pregnant on purpose. Of babies born, thirty-seven percent were not conceived on purpose.

We'll skip for the moment the discussion of how horrible it is to pretend to your child that you wanted to get pregnant with her when in fact you did not, and just agree that the thing that matters is for your child to know you love her and that it does not matter one bit whether or not she was planned in advance.

Now, back to the story: I was still digesting the thing she said about rape when Twelve added, "And I don't think you're ever going to finish the thingie you're working on" ... referring, of course, to my dissertation.

Wow, kid, I'm just not sure how to respond to that, so I think I'm just going to leave the room and close the door firmly behind me. 

By the time I got to the kitchen, though, I realized that I probably should make a point of not letting her get away with this. "What on Earth do you think rape IS?" I called to her through the closed door. She mumbled something about how she thought it was when someone forced you to do something you didn't want to do. "Yes, well, how is what he did not that?" I asked rhetorically. She had nothing there (fair enough), so she retreated to, "It was rude of you to say that I wouldn't be a good soldier!" 

At this point, I was looking for things to slam around. Noticing that she had left out the rest of the can of tomato sauce from the pizza she had made earlier, one of those little cans that you need a spatula to do anything with, I selected a spatula from the jar and stormed back into her room. Gesturing emphatically with it, I said angrily, "If you ever got to the point where you have worked for ten years and are a few months away from achieving the highest possible achievement in your field, I would not tell you that you wouldn't be good at whatever it is!" I then went back into the kitchen, yanked a few cabinets and drawers open and closed, found a suitable container, and managed to be good and noisy about scraping the tomato paste into it. Throwing the empty can into the recycle bin made a satisfying clank.

I decided that the grand finale would be to refuse to perform our nightly tucking-in ritual. I went back in her room and sternly said that I'd see her in the morning. By this point she had figured things out, and was eager to explain that she understood the difference between me telling her that she wouldn't be a good soldier and her telling me that I wasn't going to finish my doctorate. I really do think she had got it, but her tone of voice was more smug than contrite, so I stuck to my position and headed downstairs. A few minutes later, when she phoned, as usual, to announce, as usual, that she was ready to be tucked in, I actually pushed the 'ignore call' button and waited to see what she would do. Sure enough, moments later she came bopping down the stairs, acting like nothing's wrong and announcing that she's ready to be tucked in as if I had simply not noticed her call.

Nuh-uh, not gonna happen. I'm making my point with you this time, my dear. You don't get to say something that you know is completely and totally insulting, even experimentally, and then make a perfunctory apology and expect that everything's immediately okay. The price you pay for being a total shit to other people is sometimes that they don't like you very much for awhile. I know I'm your mom and that you get to try things out on me, which is why we tease each other so much and why that's usually just fine, but you crossed an important line tonight and by golly I'm going to let you know about it.

I had already said I'd drive her to school tomorrow, so we'll have a chance to reconnect soon. In my imagination, she's tossing and turning right now, unable to sleep because of overwhelming remorse. In reality, she's probably either dead asleep already or retelling the story with herself as the wronged party. In the morning, she probably won't give me a big hug out of the blue and whisper in my ear that she's so sorry about last night, but we will probably exchange a knowing glance that means we're both willing to let the incident go.

I will probably go upstairs to get a snack or a glass of water pretty soon, and I'll probably have some reason to go into the bathroom. Since the shortest route from the kitchen to the bathroom is through Twelve's room, I might tiptoe through there. You know, just in case someone has something to say to someone about how sorry she is for saying something so mean. Or if someone wants to make sure someone else is properly tucked in.

Goodnight, my sweet girl, have a good sleep.

Friday, March 1, 2013

On Friendship, Part Two [or] You Do It Differently Than I

I have two settings for friendship, on and off. I am either friends with someone or I am not. There is almost no middle ground, to the point that I don't always like situations in which I'll meet a lot of new people, because it can be so overwhelming to think about getting to know them. When I meet people and click with them, I go straight into 'becoming friends' mode, and when I'm friends with people I maintain relationships with them, and I like doing that but it is a lot of work to maintain friendships in several different social networks and all over the country and AAAGGGHHHHH I'm exhausted and can't do it anymore and end up letting friendship threads drop and that's not the point that's the opposite of the point! So I end up having only two categories for people: Friends and not-friends, and the friends category is kind of hard to get into.

The problem is that in the Cuban dance community there are a whole heck of a lot of people that you see on a regular basis - either locally, at classes and our regular social events, or across North America at the major events - but are not quite interested in claiming as friends. Some are just plain annoying; they keep bringing up that one time that you got really drunk or they try too hard to insert themselves into social situations. One sexually assaulted one of my friends in the back of another friend's van on the way home from something, and I flat-out refuse to be friends with someone who does that, even if he seems so personable and friendly. NO FUCKING WAY.

A couple of people tend to hang silently around the edges of other people's conversations, never saying anything but always just being there, which I find insanely irritating. I am fairly open with people I trust, but if we're not even friends on Facebook that means I've already decided not to share myself with you. If I am giving a presentation or teaching a class, then I am perfectly fine with an audience. If it's a private conversation, no thank you - what the hell are you doing, just standing there? GO AWAY. 

As I realized the other day, Twelve's definition of friendship is more ... fluid than mine. I mentioned this to her, and she nodded, knowing exactly what I meant.

[Side note: I LOVE it when I can get Twelve to consider things and respond seriously. It's been happening quite often, and I just get a huge kick out of it, kind of like when I'm rereading an Anastasia book and read a particularly funny part out loud to her and wait with bated breath to see if she's going to laugh too. So far, she always does.]

During tea, I like to ask about how things are going with Twelve's friends. It's kind of a crap shoot, since I'm still trying to figure out who they all are; since I don't spend much time with them, they're mostly faceless names that all seem to start with the same couple of letters - very hard to sort out from a distance. But I can at least ask if one of the Ss is still behaving socially erratically (because OMG she was being totes weird awhile back!) and if L has gotten up the gumption to talk to the boy she likes lately (no), that kind of thing. What I've noticed lately is that if I ask about a friend who was relevant the last time I checked, I get a blank look (the particularly adolescent one that means I'm equal parts crazy, stupid, and clueless, but she's putting up with me for the time being).

I think I read something about this in one of those scary adolescence books, too; that middle school friendships aren't just on or off. They're on again, off again, on again, off again ... rinse and repeat. Sounds absolutely nightmarish to me; I like knowing where I stand with people, and I like stability. Either Twelve doesn't have this trait or it hasn't developed yet; just this week, the one of the Ss who was behaving really appallingly last month met up with Twelve and me at a coffee shop after school. It was weird for me, and I hardly know the girl! But for Twelve this is how it works, and apparently - I may need to go through a couple of those books again - it's normal for adolescent girls' friendships to fluctuate.

For the DC trip, Twelve is in a group with her best friend L, their friend A, and A's mom (their chaperone). Usually there are four kids with each adult, but I suspect that these three will be plenty, and that there is a containment aspect to just having three in this particular group. When she called to tell us that this is the group, A's mom said that Twelve was currently not speaking to the other two girls and that we needed to get them back on good terms before the trip to avoid drama. I said that of course I would check with Twelve about it and find out what's going on.

When I asked her about it, she gave me that blank look that I just love and said there was no problem. She and A had exchanged messages moments before, and everything was fine. Okaaay, what about L? I asked. Same response, nothing wrong between her and L. I tried to ask why she hadn't been speaking to them for a week, Twelve was noncommittal - something about A being annoying. Since all seemed to be resolved, I decided not to pry. While I would love to know about everything that happens, mostly because I am fascinated by other people's drama, my long term strategy with Twelve is better served by feigning an attitude of nonchalance, keeping an ear to the ground, and asking as many casual questions as I can get away with.