Dr. Jekyll and My Teenager

So on my list of daily gratitudes, one of the great daily pleasures for me is being able to pick up my daughter after school. A luxury that I didn’t have with my older two daughters when I was working full-time in an office. I am genuinely excited to see her and hear all about her day. She started high school this year, so not only is she at a new school, but has new friends as well. She plays on the JV volleyball team and is also in the high school musical. So her days and weekends are quite full.

As soon as she gets in the car, I always ask, “How was your day?” 

My genuine and enthusiastic inquiry is usually met with a half-irritated-inconvenienced response, “Fine.”

So, I try a different tactic. “Did anything good happen today?”

“Not really.”

But, I am not deterred. I try again. “Did anything bad happen today?”

“Not really.”

I decide to change the subject. “Do you have a lot of homework?”

“Kind of.”

I know. I should stop, but it’s like a scab, I cannot stop myself. “How did your test go?”

“I don’t know. We didn’t get it back yet.” Insert eye roll.

Finally, I change the subject to something else. “Would you like me to make meatloaf or meatballs tonight?”

“I don’t care, but I have play rehearsal at 6pm, so can it be ready before I leave?”

I try telling her about my day, but that seems to annoy her (or bore her) as much as talking about hers. So, I talk about the dog, who is always in the backseat when I pick her up. We take turns talking about the dog or to the dog or in the dog’s voice. It goes something like this:

“Hi there! How was your day?” 

"Oh, it was good. I got lost in the neighbor’s yard and mommy yelled at me. But then she brushed out the dirt and I loved that. Then I had to take a nap because I was exhausted. Then I barked at the birds outside while mommy was on a conference call. And I got in trouble again, but it was okay because I am so adorable that she forgot she was mad. Then it was time to pick you up, so I got in the car and looked out the window. And it was awesome because I am a dog. By the way, I like meatloaf AND meatballs, so you can make me either of those things instead of my regular dog food and that will make me very happy.”

By this time, the 10 minute car ride is over. The tension has been broken, but I have learned nothing about my daughter’s day. She is grumpy because she is tired and hungry and has too much homework. She comes into the kitchen for a snack and then retreats to her room to start her homework... or more likely check her Instagram account.

But I am Lucy with the football. Every day that I pick her up, I am truly excited to see her and hear about her day. But she’s not interested in answering my questions or re-living her day… "because it’s just school.” So, last Friday, I tried a new experiment.

I picked her up and simply said, “Hi.”  I turned on the radio to her favorite music and we just drove. We didn’t say one word. I had to fight the urge to make conversation the whole way home. It felt more like 10 hours than 10 minutes. But then this weird thing happened, later that night at dinner, she started talking about her homework and her projects. I heard more about school, her teachers, her friends, and her feelings than I had in weeks. 

I am not sure if I am onto something or if it was a fluke. I know after having THREE teenage daughters, I should be an expert at this. But I am not. The hormonal fluctuations, the moodiness and the sheer irritation of having parents ask a single question still remains foreign to me. 

Communicating with a teenager is like learning a foreign language or studying another culture. What is normal and polite in regular conversation simply does not apply to teenagers and their parents. So for now, I am going with the less-is-more approach.

Or maybe I just have to have the dog ask all the questions because he seems to be an acceptable mediator.