Last week, I asked Elsa a harmless question that brought her to tears. I can’t recall what the question was. I remember only feeling startled at the intense reaction to a seemingly innocuous question.
Beneath the arranged hair, the washed face, and the selected clothes, roaring lava bubbles and burns.
Hormones transform a girl into a woman and the sometimes painful process erupts in bursts of emotion.
Walking anywhere with four daughters attracts notice. When they were little, we received praises of their beauty and compliments on their sweet manners. Paul or I smiled and thanked. But we wouldn’t reach the door without hearing the oft-repeated warning:
Just wait ’til they’re teenagers!
We swore our girls would escape such prophecies. Paul and I promised to front-load our efforts so we wouldn’t suffer it!
In general, we’ve lucked out. Our 14-year old is respectful, kind, and obedient — in spirit and body. She allows us to hug her, she responds to our questions, and our conversations are not stilted or flung back at us. We don’t compete with phones and boys or battle over power.
Still, inexplicable reactions do spring up. We cannot escape all clichés about parenting teenagers.
The harmless question hovered and Elsa held back her tears.
I left the question hanging and gave her time to compose herself. I guarded her from her sisters’ inquiries.
Elsa swallowed. She breathed deeply. The uncomfortable moment passed.
To give her more time, I flipped on my audio book, The Scarlet Letter.
Hester Prynn stood alone on the pillory with the flaming letter burning on her breast when …
“Look!” Elsa exclaimed.
Her arm extended full-length and her eyes widened in excitement.
“What?” I asked.
“Go back,” she said. “Turn around. It’s a new bird!”
I wheeled across the highway, reversed, and straightened. Following Elsa’s directions, I pulled up beside a flock of Canada geese. Another type of goose mingled with them– smaller with a brown-gray body. The defining feature was an orange-pink bill outlined in white, the white extending up its forehead.
“Greater White-fronted geese, girls,” I said.
More shy than Canada geese, they fluttered to the far end of the group. Silence filled the car. Absorbed, we watched their graceful movements as they picked through the marsh. Taking turns with the binoculars, we each obtained a close-up and noted all distinctive markings. Then, spurred by some unknown signal, the White-fronted geese leaped into the air as one body and flew to another spot beyond the marsh.
That was that.
Our thoughts followed them and landed in soft mud on the other side of the cattails and reeds.
I marveled at how that moment solved so much.
I didn’t have to pry, explain, apologize, lecture, sermonize, or correct. The shy geese, infused with the power of a pilgrimage across the tundra, gathered together from Nanavut to Siberia, swept Elsa’s self-absorbed concerns away in a breath-taking second.
Peace rested upon us.
We parents equip ourselves with self-help books to parent our children. We cajole, pray, cry, beg, plead, discipline, shout, ignore, and manipulate our way through those teenage years.
I wonder if these methods affront the human spirit?
A long walk with an identification guide may prove more effective.
A new bird could suffice. Examine the tiny parts of a flower and I find my teenage daughter…
and self-absorbed thoughts migrate far away.