Thirteen

Photo Credit: Pabak Sarkar
Photo Credit: Pabak Sarkar

I remember it all like it was yesterday.

Acne, drama, self-doubt. Excessive mooning about. A variety of binges and very bad decisions.

I behaved irrationally, irresponsibly, disrespectfully, and the one I treated the worst was me.

Yet having a teenager may be even more terrifying.

Still plagued by acne and self-doubt, my lingering woes are compounded by close proximity to this raw lump of developing human–one who wears her disdain, depression, euphoria, and ill-founded bravado at the very surface. Nothing I can say or do will serve as salve. It is what it is–a tough row to hoe.

The Family Truckster Turns Thirteen

From National Lampoon's Vacation, via Pinterest.
From National Lampoon’s Vacation, via Pinterest.

Miss Twelve is about to turn thirteen.

That means the station wagon we purchased in anticipation of her birth is already a teenager. Believe me, I can tell.

Here’s what’s good about the family truckster: it runs.

The trouble started a year or two after we bought it. The doofus replacing our cracked windshield re-mounted the rear-view mirror upside down. It took us a few months to figure out exactly what was wrong; I suppose that’s why we didn’t just call him back and make him fix it. Though it works, God help you if you try to adjust it. One touch and that thing will be swinging against the dash—leaving you to wonder how to get home without killing anyone. I’ve tried taping it up there, of course, but when the car heats up, the tape peels and dangles like streamers. Adding to the festive ambiance, the two pieces that were supposed to hold the mirror up are tucked in the side of the passenger door, making a little music with the random forks and pens when you open and close it.

Sadly, the mirror was just the beginning of a long, steady decline. Now, over a decade later, the dash and seats are scarred from endless bike and lumber hauling. A hairpin got caught in the cigarette lighter, shorting the system. Knobs were pried off by toddlers when I got tired of watching them destroy the house. The ashtray was kicked one too many times, leaving a gaping, crumb-filled hole between the front seats, and milk has dribbled from abandoned sippy cups into every nook and cranny.

Eyeing the disaster, a friend once mentioned that she kept her car clean by forbidding all food and drink. This confused me. “When do you eat breakfast?” I asked.

But certain issues are especially indicative of its teen years:

It’s sullen, sluggish, and difficult to steer. This vehicle would prefer to lounge at home at all times. When forced to move, it goes where it wants to–making it difficult to park, hurry, make a U-turn, and, of course, avoid disaster.

It needs constant refilling: gas, oil, and especially coolant.

It smells funny. Unlike my child, I am able to bathe it now and then, but for the past year and a half, coolant has been dripping onto the engine block and boiling away, releasing the noxious fumes into our choking faces. As the leak worsened, clouds started to pour through the air circulation system, a development which rendered the windows alarmingly and persistently foggy. (The spouse likes to squirt a bottle of water on the windshield first thing, which does clear it a bit–and might work well with the kid, too, now that I think about it.)

After the fourth unsuccessful trip to the garage, the mechanics gave us an ultimatum: pay two grand to have the entire system ripped out and replaced, or shell out a couple hundred bucks to bypass the whole climate control system. We opted for the latter. The first time, they put the hose in wrong which led to another issue:

It is unexpectedly soggy. Just as thirteen years of bottled emotions erupt in a lake of tears, we discovered about a gallon of chemistry had pooled on the floor of the passenger’s side. I have mopped and scrubbed, but it refuses to be clean or dry, so no one is allowed to place books or bags on the floor. And now that the hose has been properly installed…

It’s permanently unbalanced. Although the fan works, there’s no air conditioning or heat. When it’s hot outside, we’re trapped in a hair dryer; when it’s cold, the North wind blows.

What’s more, our car is dangerously volatile. The wagon has a new trick, which I unfortunately discovered a few days ago. The struts on the trunk gave out just as I was cheerfully stashing backpacks in there. Suddenly the trunk and my face got well acquainted. Not surprisingly, that has caused me the mother of all headaches. Note that the trunk doesn’t always collapse, so we are constantly, gingerly maneuvering around it–dreading the worst, and only slightly placated when it manages to stay open long enough for us to grab a bag without getting a black eye.

The spouse was on the freeway recently when the car in front dropped some large, vital piece onto the roadway. It was sucked up under our wagon, destroying two of the tires. Remarkably calm and clear-thinking under pressure, he managed to steer the car safely onto the shoulder. Later, he put his head in his hands. “Why did I do that?” he asked. “I had the perfect opportunity to steer right into the guard rail and get us a new car.”

He’s got a point. This kind of teenager will never go to college.

 

 

 

I’m not lurking; I’m finding my zen

The view from another, more photogenic, San Francisco hill.
The view from another, more photogenic, San Francisco hill.

As I may have mentioned before, I do a boatload of driving.

In fact, I drive up and over one particular hill at least six times every day. Let’s not explore the reasons why. Suffice it to say that having two children in schools on opposite ends of the city can make a person do ridiculous things.

Over the past six months, I’ve developed a habit of pulling over and parking at the top of the hill. Maybe I’d feel a little embarrassed if it didn’t feel so dad-gum therapeutic.

It’s not the most spectacular view of San Francisco, but the sky is constantly changing there–like moods. I am always surprised by what I see.

Sometimes the clouds split and a ribbon of light rips across the horizon.

Sometimes I can see it raining one place, sunny in another.

And sometimes–like this morning–the hill is adrift in fog and I see nothing at all. I always look for a while anyway.

I might comb my hair or clean out my purse. I might eat breakfast, read a few pages, or listen to the inane commentary of morning talk shows.

Often I close my eyes and take ten breaths.

The neighbors must wonder about me–though I have taken to setting my alarm for seven minutes, so I don’t wallow indefinitely–but for that tiny envelope of time, there is nothing but the sky and me. It is strangely satisfying.

***

IMG_0853

 

 

Fears

Image from http://www.smithsonianmag.com
Image from http://www.smithsonianmag.com

Then

  • Clowns
  • The dentist
  • The basement
  • The dark
  • Getting lost
  • Getting lost in a dark basement full of dentists dressed like clowns
  • Escalators
  • The principal
  • Being a disappointment to my parents
  • Drowning
  • Caves
  • Mean girls
  • The Shining—never, ever read Stephen King books in grade school
  • Being tickled until I wet my pants
  • Juvie

Now

  • Jury duty
  • The mortgage
  • The Internal Revenue Service
  • Airport security
  • Serious illness
  • Insomnia
  • Mammograms
  • Hand guns
  • College tuition for my kids
  • Ignorance
  • Colonoscopies
  • Being a disappointment to myself
  • Termites
  • Alzheimer’s
  • The basement
  • The dentist
  • Clowns

Somehow stuck at 90 words today, but this note makes it 100.

****

I realize that was a total copout, but a) I’m human, and b) tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. I need to spend a little more time cooking, cleaning, and being grateful instead of tearing my hair out over ten words.

 

R.I.P.

©2011 Beret Olsen
©2011 Beret Olsen–Not Piranha. I couldn’t make myself photograph a frozen fish.

 

Yesterday I found one of our goldfish in the freezer, nestled between the breakfast sausages and a pint of mocha ice cream. She lay awaiting proper burial: a tiny coffin, a moment of silence, a cozy hole in the yard.

But Piranha has been stuck in purgatory for two or three weeks now, while her surviving compatriot circles the tank and gives me the stink eye.

I briefly consider her stiff corpse–recalling her five-year sentence of dry fish flakes and fake plants–before tossing her regretfully into the compost bin. Here’s hoping she doesn’t haunt me for too long.

Time

Vicki DeLoach
Photo: Vicki DeLoach

I remember when each hour crawled languorously before me—a caterpillar on sixteen tiny legs, inching from Pensacola to New York City and back before the mantel clock would chime again.

Two days before my birthday, I thought I might be 50 before I turned eleven.

Now the years skip about with surprising unpredictability, and I’m never certain how old I am on any given day. It’s not unusual for me to believe I’m in my late twenties–until I try to stay up past eleven, until I glance at my little ones, and realize we see eye to eye.

Joys of Insomnia: A Late-Night Conversation with a Tween

From www.newyorker.com.
From www.newyorker.com.

My house is not a happy sleep place. Sooner or later, someone is destined to rouse me, so I can no longer doze off before the first two or three late-night interruptions. This makes it impossible to relax, read a book, sleep, or participate enthusiastically in conjugal relations. Mostly I just lie there and worry about who will be first to appear bleary-eyed at my bedside.

Last night, it was Miss Twelve. My light was still on low and I was holding a book open, imagining myself being able to concentrate on the words.

Miss Twelve looked at me expectantly. What follows is our conversation, verbatim:

Me: S’up?

Miss 12: What?

Me: S’up?

Miss 12: What?

Me: What’s up?

Miss 12: What?

Me: WHAT IS UP?

Miss 12: What?

Me: Can’t sleep?

Miss 12: What?

Me: IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE HAVING TROUBLE SLEEPING.

Miss 12: What?

Me: Do you need something?

Miss 12: What?

Me: HOW CAN I HELP YOU?

Miss 12: I can’t sleep.

Me: You can’t sleep and you are DEAF.

Miss 12: What?

Me: YOU SEEM DEAF.

Miss 12: I can’t hear you. I’m wearing ear plugs (removes ear plugs).

Me: WHY WOULD YOU WEAR EARPLUGS WHILE TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION?

Miss 12: I was too lazy to take them out.

Me: (silence)

Miss 12: Anyway. I can’t sleep, so I took some melatonin. Good night.

Ridiculous as it was, the interchange was mercifully brief, and did not require me to get up and rub a back, procure ibuprofen, review for the state capitals test, fluff pillows, discuss the fall of the Roman Empire, fetch an icepack, listen to friend issues, or massage feet–all of which have happened in the past few weeks. Instead, I had plenty of time to worry about the next nighttime visitor.