She sat in the chair next to me in the salon, the ends of her long hair wrapped in foil to absorb the bleach that would be the base for magenta tips. She was young — 18 — and her attention was on the small screen she held in her hand, a smile slowly appearing on her face as she responded to whomever was on the other end. When the stylist inquired about school or work or boyfriend, she readily entered into conversation, polite, cheerful, engaged.
The bell on the door clanged against the glass as a woman my age pushed through. She addressed the girl with the kind of familiarity that bypasses social conventions, cutting straight to the point like a laser beam. “How long is this going to take?”, she barked, then glanced around at the other women like me in the room before taking her annoyance down a socially acceptable notch. “How much is this going to cost me?”
I couldn’t hear the girl’s response, but she looked up at her mother to meet her gaze, quietly answering the questions and putting out the small smoldering flicker with her own calculated calm. She’d had to respond this way before.
The questions continued. “Who are you going out with tonight? Are you going after work?” She wasn’t asking because she cared in the way friends ask, “Hey, what’s going on with you?” She was shooting fiery darts meant to pin the young woman-daughter to the wall. There was a tense edge in the salon that hadn’t been there just a minute before she broke the calm with her irritated voice.
And it made me ponder my relationship with my own three daughters. Mine aren’t yet legally adults, but they are fast approaching 18. I can confidently assert from my current vantage point that we have a strong mother-daughter relationship. Note here that I also have three adult sons, and while I have a great relationship with all three, I’ve been around the parenting block long enough to know that relationships are fluid, living entities, and as such can morph into stressful or less-loving seasons. I don’t pretend to have this sewn up.
But this I do know: 12-year-old girls can be frustrating. Stifling. Or in the words of a friend raising her own teen girls, “Like a booger you can’t flick off.” That sums it up. My 12-year-old is all up in my business all the time. All the time. Right now every day is an opportunity to use my workplace polite and patient voice with her — the voice you use with co-workers you need to tolerate and work with everyday and better not offend or risk having your lunch stolen from the communal fridge or your name dropped at the water cooler. If I can drum that up for them, why not for my own flesh and blood?
Sometimes when we choose to be polite, we come out on the other side with a greater understanding of what might be making that person such an irritant. In the case of pre-teen girls, that irritation tends to stem from a lack of maturity and a surge of hormones, neither of which they can control. If I take a deep breath when my preteen is doing her own breathing down my neck, pestering me with questions of who, what, why, where, and when (as in, “Who called you? What did they want? Why are you doing that? Where are you going? and When will you be back?”), I can absorb the annoyance and be kind. Kindness covers a multitude of annoyances.
Love covers a multitude of sins, and mothers of teens and preteen daughters, listen: snippy, unkind, disrespectful responses to our daughters are sin. Cover that stuff with love. Someday soon those 12-year-old boogers will be 18-year-olds in salon chairs beautifying themselves and still hoping your smile of approval means something. What you sow at 8, 10, and 12 can be reaped at 16, 18, and 20. Sow love, reap love. Mothers, be good to your daughters.