Dear Cal: Advice To My Teenage Daughter (Part 1)
I wish I had better answers for all of my daughter’s difficult questions. If I practice enough, will I finally score a goal in soccer? Can you explain polynomials? Why did you take money from my piggy bank without telling me instead of going to an ATM so you could eat at that cash-only diner?
My 13-year-old daughter, Cal, starts high school this fall. When she was first born, I assumed the Know Nothing phase of parenting would transition into the Know Everything phase within a few years. I wasn’t sure how many years, but I guesstimated four. Five, tops.
I still don’t know everything. This baffles me. I must be one of those slow learners. What would really help is if the rules of the game didn’t change every time I got the hang of this parenting thing for more than five minutes. The way I interact with the 7-year-old girl who campaigned for a Spongebob-themed bedroom is so very different from the deeper heart-to-heart talks I now have with the teenager who won’t even allow Spongebob toothpaste in her bathroom. So fickle, these kids.
While I don’t know it all, there are still so many thoughts I want to share with Cal as she makes the milestone transition into high school.
DON’T WISH FOR ANY OTHER AGE
I spent all of my teen years willing time to move faster. “Older” seemed like an exclusive members-only club, and I was on the outs.
By some fluke, I started my senior year of high school as a 16-year-old. Logically, I knew it had something to do with my birthday falling on the cut-off date for school registration. My newly immigrated parents chose not to hold me back for a year because they were eager for me to learn English. While I could (sometimes) appreciate their reasoning, it didn’t make it any easier as everyone around me hit milestones I could still only see in the distant future. I listened with envy as my classmates bragged about drivers ed classes. And while my friends raced to their cars each day to eat lunch off campus, I tried to blend in with the freshman as we stood in the school cafeteria line with our Styrofoam trays and punch ticket. Thank god for Fiesta Salad Friday. That was the only redeeming grace during my carless high school years.
I wanted everything faster. Sooner. Now.
Now eventually comes. And now, at the age of 32, I catch myself wishing for Then. If I had known Then that I would spend the majority of my life stuck in Los Angeles traffic, I wouldn’t have hidden my face behind my hair as I waited for my school lunch. I wouldn’t have begged my parents to go away for the weekend so I could have the house to myself. They are funny people. I miss being able to walk into the next room to talk to them.
PICK YOUR FRIENDS WISELY
I didn’t understand what a frenemy was until recently. To me, a friend was a friend, and an enemy was an enemy. If someone labeled me as her friend, and she was nice to me most of the time, then I didn’t question motivations or tantrums or guilt trips.
Several years ago, something wonderful happened in my life. As I dialed my friend’s phone number to share the news, I looked for ways to downplay the value of the accomplishment. I knew that my friend would congratulate me, but then, she would either launch into a tirade about how life hadn’t been fair to her, or bring up a similar achievement in her past and imply that she had “gotten there first.”
I forced myself to acknowledge that something wasn’t right.
We had been friends for so long that I almost didn’t believe that not having her in my life was a possibility. I cycled through feeling like a failure (If I had done more to boost her self-esteem, maybe she wouldn’t be so upset when goodness came into my life.) and feeling like an idiot (Why did I allow her such a large place in my life if she wasn’t a real friend in the first place?).
I still miss her. When we comb through our memories of a particular person, we tend to remember moments through a filter- the good memories becoming amazing and the bad ones don’t seem so bad.
But as I started making new friends, I gained a deeper understanding that a true friend isn’t jealous all of the time. A true friend delights in my happiness because they want the best for me. Just as I wish for them.
This is the first installment in my new series “Dear Cal: Advice To My Teenage Daughter.”