When I was growing up, I incurred my father’s wrath on perhaps half a dozen occasions. Most of those incidents involved accidents borne of stupidity or lack of forethought: I had created havoc or destruction because I hadn’t considered the likely consequences (and their severity) of various actions or inactions.
When I broke a window (I believe I did this 5-6 times in my illustrious window-breaking career, which may explain why I primarily played short-stop and outfield, rather than pitcher; I had difficulty painting the corners, so to speak), or tracked gooey roof tar all over new carpeting, or rammed dad’s car into a snow blower sitting in the front of the garage—damaging the former and destroying the latter—I was guilty of juvenile ignorance or impulsivity rather than brazen defiance. He may disagree with this assessment, but my memory is quite clear that if dad told me to do X or refrain from doing Y, I almost always obeyed. Of course, I may be forgetting a few pertinent events. My adolescent years are particularly hazy.
These days I have an adolescent of my own. She is usually quite winsome. Quick to laugh and include others. Thoughtful. Sweet. She looks out for her friends, sometimes to the exclusion of other reasonable considerations. She honors her grandparents and her mother (most of the time). She is kind to her autistic brother and long-suffering with her youngest brother, with whom she alternates between being best friends and mortal enemies. She is 15 now and will be driving a car relatively soon. Consider yourselves warned, Darke County. She is fairly low maintenance, thank God. She doesn’t like shopping all that much and would rather wear a comfortable sweatshirt and jeans than something more chic. On some matters political, we disagree…but do so agreeably. She has a very nice smile and a penetrating backhand.
And she is beginning to drive me out of my mind.
After careful deliberation, I’ve concluded that Abby’s “operation-give-dad-a-one-way-ticket-to-a-padded-room-with-a-thorazine-cocktail” rests on a cagey premise. Namely, that the surest way to ensure my descent into frothing-at-the-mouth insanity, while preserving her own squeaky clean reputation, is to assault me with a thousand little paper cuts of disobedience, pin-pricks of defiance that are almost invisible to the average inattentive outsider.
“Make sure you are home by 5 o’clock,” Krista told her recently when she prepared to ride her bike over to a friend’s house one unusually warm November afternoon after school. “You can’t be riding your bike home when it’s dark, and it’s pretty dark by then. Got it?”
“Yessss, mom!” she exclaimed dismissively. “I get it!” I wasn’t there to witness the exchange, but I am fairly certain her words were accompanied by a self-righteous head shake and eye roll.
At 5:30, when I arrived home from work, she had not returned. I called the friend’s mother and asked to speak with my winsome daughter. “Hi dad!” she chirped.
“Hello, Abby. Do you know what time it is?”
“No. Is there a problem or something?”
“Yes, indeed. Look outside. What do you see?”
“Huh? Wait a sec. Okay. I dunno. Not much. Am I supposed to see something?”
“What time were you supposed to be home?”
“I forget. Sometime, I think.”
“Hmmm. Yes, sometime, indeed. 5 o’clock, to be precise. And do you know why? Let me give you a hint. It involves darkness and riding a bicycle and a command your mother gave you.” Just in case the message wasn’t sufficiently clear—how could I be sure, after all?—I added “I am not happy.”
She issued a petulant sigh and muttered something about how it wasn’t all that dark out yet and she could still ride her bike and what’s the big deal, and so on and so forth.
These sorts of episodes are increasing and, coincidentally, my health appears to be declining. I am suffering headaches and intestinal “distress,” sleeping less, losing hair, and eating more. I haven’t taken to drinking yet, but confess that the prospect is becoming alarmingly appealing. This must be a recognized syndrome. Surely there is an online support group by now. #ihaveateenageritis?
Late last week, a friend invited Abby and a few others to spend the day shopping and eating out in celebration of the friend’s birthday. We gave Abby a little money and told her to text or call us if she was going to be home later than 7:00 p.m. Given that she was going to be picked up around 1:00 p.m. and that we had a number of other activities scheduled during that day and evening, this was a perfectly understandable request.
“Okay,” she replied. “No problem. Got it.”
By 8:30 that evening she had not checked in, so I texted her friend’s mother who promptly replied that Abby would be delivered home within the next hour and a half or so. That Abby was out until 10:00 (on a weekend) was not an issue at all. The infuriating issue was that she had failed—again—to demonstrate the important courtesy of obeying the straight-forward, reasonable command to let us know her whereabouts at the appointed time. When she waltzed in 90 minutes later she received the verbal brunt of my fully marinated anger. “Okaaayyyyy, dad! I’ve GOT it!” she hollered back. I doubt it.
The following day, while watching her youngest brother’s sixth-grade basketball game, Abby recounted our exchange to Krista (who had been grocery shopping at the time) and another friend’s mother. “Ohmygosh!” she exclaimed with admirable good nature. “Dad’s neck muscles bulged out. And he has veins there and in his forehead that I’ve never seen before!”
Wait a minute. Masculine, middle-aged bulging neck muscles? Emerging forehead veins? My hazy adolescence is beginning to come back to me now….
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.