Late-Night Conversations


J’s transformed overnight.

Suddenly her hair is so long. Our family policy with hair, generally speaking, is to ignore it. Once in a while it will look raggedy enough that I’ll suggest a trim, and usually the girls demur, and I drop it. I just don’t care enough for it to hold my attention for more than a few minutes at a time. The other day someone pointed out that her hair almost reaches her waist now, and I was surprised.

And J’s grown. She must have. How is it that she’s wearing all of the clothes that M wore two years ago and they fit her? It doesn’t seem possible. I spend almost all of my laundry-folding-time confused. Who’s shirt was this, again? How is it possible that these children, my children, fit into these clothes?

I catch sight of someone’s back walking into the kitchen and think, wait, is one of M’s friends here visiting? And then I realize that it’s my second-born, almost-middle school daughter.

And when I describe my daughter as almost-middle school, unfortunately, that includes all that middle school entails. Stormy outlook. Occasional bouts of gloom. Increased showers of scorn. A hitherto unknown tendency toward prickliness.

This is understandable. I was there once, too. And I fret for her. Are her friendships cracking and re-configuring? How’s she adjusting to so much growth, so quickly? What other changes are happening below the surface?

So the other night, I climbed into bed next to her. I have discovered that, under optimal conditions, a sleepy middle school child may revert to pre-adolescent levels of openness. A back rub helps. Hands combing through hair. A dark room. This is an excellent opportunity for a check-in. But it must be stealthy. Asking questions will break the spell. Only complete, casual silence will lull your quarry into complacency and make them consider telling you about who was crying in the bathroom at school today or consider asking you about pressing issues involving razors or deodorant. I snuggled, silent. Silent. Siiiii-lent. .  .

And then, there it was!

“. . . Mom. . . ?” a whisper. “Can I ask you something. . . ?”

I think: Yes, darling, yes! A million times, yes! I have philosophies, policies, opinions to share! Please ask me something! The juicier, the better!

But, out loud, I say, “Sure.”

I am waiting for My Mom Moment.

“What do people mean when they say ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’?”

I suppress a sigh.

J’s reading the All-of-a-Kind series. I love this book series. But this is a very boring question. So I talk about the island of Manhattan. How, if you looked at the map, the part where the Dutch settled is at the bottom, as far downtown as you can go. And I briefly trace through the World Trade Center and Times Square and Central Park and where Cute W and I used to live all the way up to where I used to work. As usual, I offer up a little more information than she actually wants. I do this quite a bit. I am eager to explain, eager to provide satisfaction. I am . . . over-eager. Which I realize, so I shut up.

As we settle back into a snuggly silence, I tell myself that if I answer each of her questions with care and attention, the next questions might get more interesting.


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