Sixteen and Life to Go.

sixteen and life to go

I stand here in our kitchen, watching a storm of emotions play across your face. Hate, disgust, desire, innocence.


I feel helpless. So many things I need to say, but the right words refuse to appear on my tongue. I stutter, and drift off, you begin to cry and I start again.

Other demands are shouting at me, “Turn the laundry load over!”, “Pick up the little guy at soccer practice!”, “Final exams this week! You’ve got to study!”, “Magazine article deadline tonight…hurry!”, “You didn’t take anything out for dinner….what will you feed everyone?” and I shove these thoughts back into the deep recesses of my mind, far enough that I can but hear the whispers repeating.

As I struggle to focus, I watch your eyes and your mouth and I listen, I listen.

It isn’t that I haven’t been listening.

It’s just that I don’t understand how to reach across this chasm that separates us and express myself to you in a way that won’t make you more angry, more shut down.

I know you want me to understand you, and you know what? I want you to understand me.

I see you, and I know you. I know every piece of you, every freckle, every scar.

I realize I continue to repeat myself to the point you’ve tuned me out, but you cannot comprehend the panic I feel when I think of how short a time I have left to influence you at all. Yes, I’ve said it before and yes, I will say it again, because you have to get it. Do you get it? I can’t be sure.

Your style of dress is so reminiscent of my own teenage self, and I clearly recall begging my parents for that black motorcycle jacket in a pawn shop. I wanted the one with the bullet holes in it, because it seemed so cool, so edgy and dangerous. I start to giggle a little at the memory of it, and it makes you furious.

“Are you laughing at me?” you scream, fists balled up at your sides. Oh man, I’ve screwed up again.

I’m always screwing up.

I was so much more confident when you were small. Back then, the dishes were caught up, the living room vacuumed, toys were in their place. Two children napping, one happily coloring at the dining table, and a baby quietly nursing at my breast. I was capable of solving all the problems then: a temper tantrum, a soaked bed, a stomach bug or some hurt little feelings. Dinner in the slow-cooker, a play date with some friends, and you all thought I was magic because I could suspend fruit in Jell-O.

I can’t solve all the problems now.

And it makes me feel like an absolute failure.

I wish I could take on all the hardships for you. I’m sorry for the pain you’ve endured, I’m sorry you have to struggle so much for things that seem to come easily for others, I’m sorry for all you have lost.

Watching you fighting through agony is what causes these sharp, razor blade nicks in my heart. And even though I know you must endure hardships to strengthen your character, to help you become a clear-minded adult….I still wish I could take them for you.

I would lay down my life for yours in a second, without thought, without hesitation.

Do you understand that?

It’s just rebellion. I know it’s typical, and it’s been a right of passage since pilgrim boys were shaving mohawks in their bowl-cuts.

It isn’t that you aren’t a great kid, because you are. Intelligent, creative, musically talented. That wickedly dry sense of humor that I love so much. And you are so desperately compassionate….you’ve always been the one to stick up for the little guy, the kid who seems different, the one getting picked on. Your strong sense of justice is a beautiful thing, truly.

We’ve never had a problem with drugs or alcohol. Never had to stay up late, wondering where you might be.

I remember lying to my own parents, gleefully arrogant in my youth. I laughed about it with friends, but truthfully there was always a sick, hollow feeling in my gut that told me I was doing wrong.

I’m trusting you get that same feeling, and that one day you’ll listen to it. Just as I did.

You face me, clothed in your righteous indignation, your arrogance so enormous it seems a physical presence. You cannot listen to me. You don’t care what I say. You hate me. Yes, I hear you.

I despair you’ve never heard a word I’ve said, never taken the important things to heart, the lessons I’ve tried so hard to teach you.

But I see you again, with little children that you babysit or kids in our family and I hear you telling them, teaching them, and my own words are echoing from your mouth. Your voice is sweet then, your face relaxed and happy, the joy in your heart apparent.

Ah. So you have listened.

And we stand here in our kitchen, doing this awkward little dance. We are not on the same page, or even the same book.

We are not in the same library.

I step left, and you insist the sky is green.

You step right, and I say you must be home by eleven.

I twirl, you shout that you love him.

It’s your turn, you bow and I whisper a question, “Is your homework finished?”

Me again. I leap, you ask why we hate you.

Back to you. Knees on the ground, arms outstretched, and I apologize…for what, I don’t know. Nothing.


I step closer and raise my hand to yours and try to lead, you jerk away and tell me you’re old enough to make your own decisions now. And also? YES THE SKY IS SO TOO GREEN!

I can’t win.

And I can’t afford to lose.

So many nights I’ve lain awake, worried that your quick temper and stubborn nature will make life harder for you down the road.

But I can’t blame you for it, for you come by those traits naturally.

One more thing that is my fault.

I see so much of myself in you, and it hurts because I wanted better for you.

I see so much of her in you, and as much as it frightens me, I want you to keep those traits so I can still see her.

A cacophony of voices in my head, shouting for me to Be far more strict! Lay down more rules! Force you into submission!

Thing is, your fire, your creativity, your determination are exactly what makes you….well, you.

Who am I to douse those flames?

Guidelines, house rules – certainly. Other lines are not so well-defined. I’m playing this by ear, and I’ve never been musically talented.

Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t need to be reminded. I flog myself daily for my mistakes.

But I know what I want for you – everything.

Every single thing your heart desires, I want success in it for you. Love and be loved. Follow your passions. Stand for what you believe in. Find joy. Live with laughter. Hone your talents. Be comfortable with your own imperfections, for that is your true beauty.

I know what I want to say, but not how to express it properly.

You stand there, angry.

I step to the left.

We dance in the kitchen.


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