Taylor, my only daughter and youngest of three children, is seventeen and a senior in high school. When her desires are thwarted or she’s awakened before she’s ready to get up she’s as snarly as they come. She will spit insults about anything from my driving ability, to my shortcomings as a working mother. She’ll sometimes accuse me of not wanting her to grow up and go to college (“you just hope I won’t get in to college so I have to stay home and go to Cape Cod Community!”), or will say, simply, that I’m “acting weird” when I disagree with her opinions. Some days she’ll criticize my poor waking-up technique: “Don’t turn on the light!” she might growl, eyes shut, blankets pulled tight. “Stop yelling at me!”
“I’m not yelling,” I whisper, trying to keep my voice even.
Sometimes I carry the residue of such outbursts with me to work to work for the day. But I’ve also learned that these episodes don’t last and she and I often talk about them calmly after-the-fact or laugh about them together later as we drive on errands.
“You were rotten this morning,” I accuse her.
“I was?!” She responds, with an innocent “who-me?!” grin. “I don’t remember. Really. I’m sorry! I’m a different girl in the morning.” Her look begs forgiveness.
“Yes, you were: ‘Don’t wake me up like that! You’re a terrible mother! I hate you!’” I press on, mocking and teasing her, exaggerating just a bit.
“I didn’t say THAT!” she argues through giggles.
Despite popular sentiment that might advise against parents trying too hard to be liked by their children, wanting to be friends before being parents, I’ve certainly allowed it to happen. This is not to say that I haven’t taken away car keys once or twice, or pressured her to shut off the TV and do homework, but I’ve let her charm me for the better part of two decades.
Last week, Taylor and I were driving together, me at the wheel this time as she forwarded through Taylor Swift’s new album to show me all the songs. She and I know the words to older releases “You Belong with Me” or “Our Song” and sing along together whenever they’re on the radio. This day, we talked about how “Dear John” was about the singer’s relationship with the much older John Mayer (“Eew! He’s so old!” says Taylor) and listened to “Innocent,” her song to Kanye West in response to his ripping the mike from her hands during her MTV award acceptance speech.
“I’m curious to hear what she says to him,” I say.
“Eh – the quality is shitty on this one,” Taylor quips as she fast-forwards to the next cut. “It’s live and it sounds shitty. But here, you’ll like this one. It’s one of her story songs.” And I do. Maybe this is a new one for our repertoire, I think.
I listen as the famous Taylor sings from the beginning verse about a baby’s grip around her finger, on to the one about the awkward teen ashamed to let her mom drop her off in front of friends, to wanting to be an adult with a place of her own in the city. Her maturing voice is still young and sweet as she sings the chorus “never grow up, don’t you ever grow up….”
The final verse, when “T Swift” sings that the city is colder than she imagined it would be, causes me to break into tears as I suddenly see the bookend of seventeen years of daily life with my daughter vividly in the near distance.
“Aw Mom, don’t cry,” she soothes. But suddenly her face cracks and tears pour from her eyes. “I can’t wait to go to college but I’m really gonna miss you!” she chokes out.
“Let’s turn this off.” We both laugh through tears and reach for the knob at the same time.
I imagine next August or September I’ll have the mixed grief and relief a mother feels when she sends her child off on the school bus for the first time. But I know one of the first things I’ll have to do with all my extra time is to make some new friends.