Lately there’s been a stranger living in my house. The family resemblance is mind-boggling, but the possibility that I raised this eye-rolling, sigh-heaving creature is simply unthinkable. So I must assume that someone else brought her up, realized she was out of control, and dropped her at my house, figuring she looked enough like the rest of us that we would absorb her without noticing.
Her demeanor changes every few seconds, so even with careful study it’s tough to get a bead on what she’s really like. So far, the best I’ve come up with is that she’s a fashion kleptomaniac (evidenced by the immediate disappearance of a freshly-purchased embroidered belt before I even managed to wear it, and the fact that my jewelry and most of my clothes seem to be showing up on her dresser and floor) with the attitude of Beyonce and a staggering disrespect for anyone not as smart as she is. Or just for me, not sure which. The sense of entitlement is also … impressive. As are her ability to inject a world of disdain into one glance and her unfathomable way of stomping to express annoyance with whatever ridiculous request came out of my mouth last. Unload the dishwasher? Hang up her dance uniform? Surely I jest!
She arrived in our home sometime last summer, bringing with her a sudden interest in clothes and accessories and brand names and lip gloss. And makeup. Oh, makeup. Endless hours of watching how-to videos on YouTube have turned her into a contouring expert. What happened to Bonne Bell Lip Smackers and Maybelline? It’s Kylie Jenner and Too Faced for her and her friends – she hoards her money for a trip to Sephora and then spends an hour choosing exactly the right palette. What exactly is a palette, anyway? I’m fairly familiar with cosmetics and I have no clue. Which reminds me – she REALLY wants to give me a makeover and teach me to use eye shadow. Not. Happening.
Much of her time is spent in her room streaming “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” on the laptop while simultaneously Snapchatting a dozen friends, but when she emerges in search of sustenance, it’s a bit like a bear coming out of hibernation. My 10-year-old and I tiptoe around, hoping not to set off her hair-trigger temper. Her continued existence in this house is ensured only by her occasional lapses into a person we still recognize – one who joyfully describes her day at school, flashes her breathtaking grin at a compliment, sweetly curls up next to me and confesses her love of a family tradition, and, here and there, throws a kind word to her little sister.
OK, I’ll cop to it. She’s mine. I raised her, she’s almost 13 years old, and the faults she’s currently displaying are at least partially my own fault. We’re in the throes of a struggle that no doubt dates back to the cave mother who said to her adolescent cave daughter, “You no like how I cook mammoth? You cook your own damn mammoth then. And get your tiger skins off the ground before I donate them to Cavewill ” Coming up with ways to discourage her blossoming attitude is mentally taxing in a way I’ve never experienced. I know what my own mother would have done with the worst of it: she would have knocked my block off. I’m not sure that I really got smacked as many times as my memory says I did, but I know I deserved every one of those cracks and then some. I also never felt abused or unloved in any way – my mom deserved my respect, and if I didn’t give it to her, I deserved to be reminded of the manners she’d raised me with. But the smacking thing doesn’t go over so well these days, so it’s a constant wracking of the brain to find sufficient deterrence. Most recently, it’s suspending her Snapchat account. A nuclear meltdown occurs when I disable it before she can find someone to continue her “streaks.” What exactly is a streak? I don’t know, but I thank God for it because it’s given me a handy new weapon for my arsenal. Her phone she can somehow live without – but her streaks! Just the threat of losing them is enough to get her bathroom sparkling, the clothes out of her floor, and at least three loads of laundry done.
It’s a conundrum, this mothering an adolescent girl. My own mother died 25 years ago, but I wish she were here so I could thank her for allowing me to grow up – heaven knows I can see myself in Shelby and I’m surprised my mom never just locked me in a closet and left me there to starve. For now I will continue to hear Claire Huxtable clearly in my head, muttering at Denise and Vanessa, “You roll your eyes at me, I’ll roll your head down the hall. I brought you into this world, and by God, I can take you out of it.” And content myself with the idea of her sassy, curly little head rolling down the hall into her messy, messy room strewn with stuff she stole from me.
Amy Clay is the widowed mom of two tween daughters. A writer for more than 20 years (and a mom for 12), Amy lives in Kentucky. She loves monograms, the Derby, the Wildcats, and all things southern. You can read about life in her all-girl household on her blog, “Confessions of a Fairly Merry Widow,” at aclay2005.wordpress.com.