The Thin Line Between Love and Hate

I’m gonna post a couple of Modern Muse columns that ran in the Alameda Sun, just to catch you up. I’ll mark the ones I submitted to CNPA which got me the award. This one ran in April of last year.

The Thin Line Between Love and Hate

There is a stranger in my house, an 11-year-old girl who used to be my baby. She hates me.

This was made evident on a recent shopping trip to find suitable attire for her graduation from the sixth grade. We went to the mall, which is where one goes to find the perfect graduation dress, and as we walked into the mall, all was right with the world. But when we walked toward the first store, she got that look on her face, and suddenly everything I did was wrong. My jokes were not funny, they were embarrassing, and the way I talked, she hissed at me, was “irritating.”

I’ll have you know I am a damned funny person, mostly because of the things I’ll do for laughs. Sadly, this kind of humor is wasted on the young. She cares not for PeeWee Herman and his snappy comeback, “Why don’t you marry it?” to everything. (It’s even funnier when I do it – really.)

We went into the first store and I thought, instead of leading the way, I would just let her decide what she’d like to wear. But I made the mistake of offering a suggestion, some subtle nugget like, “There are some dresses over there,” to which she replied, “I know!” Translated, that means, “Stupid cow, how dare you insult me with your feeble ideas? You know nothing about anything! Pah!”

She had her heart set on yellow, and I followed her to a rack of hooded sweatshirts – always elegant for graduation – which were on sale. She deigned to let me pick one out for her, mostly because she was too short to reach the rack. She also picked out a tank top with some beading which I thought looked nice enough, and – get this – a yellow T-shirt with a monkey on it that was scented like bananas. As her choice, it was perfect. I wouldn’t have dared to suggest it – a shirt that smelled like bananas! To be worn in public! I have already learned better than that.

We went to the dressing room and I was allowed to follow her in, but I couldn’t help or comment on the trying-on; I was relegated to the corner to block the slight crack of light through which somebody, if somebody were passing by and really wanted to look, could have seen nothing. She tried on the yellow tank top and she looked very hip – it’s the same sort of style that high school and college girls are wearing, it had wide enough straps and the beading was very cute. But she looked sourly at her reflection and smoothed her hair. She turned sideways and looked at her profile, at the meager contours just beginning to take shape, and she yanked off the top in disgust. I said, “It looks good on you. Really grown up.”

“I hate it!”

She pulled on the monkey-banana top and looked again. She quirked the tiniest movement at the corner of her lip, made the barest of shrugs. “This one’s all right,” she said. Before this day, I would have said, “Well, why don’t you marry it?” She might have even laughed. But those days are apparently over.

Who is this beast? Her hair, which was once the smoothest strawberry-blonde ringlets, has sprung into brownish-blonde steel wool. She spends hours trying to tame it, or straighten it, and when she gets it just right, refuses to wash it for days because shampoo “wrecks” her hair. She paints her fingernails, then picks mercilessly at the polish until it is a mere chip on each dirty nail. She has got hold of discarded makeup from her elder sister and my makeup kits, squirreled it away until the most inappropriate times, and then chooses the day we’re already late for school to plop on the floor and apply enough face paint and spackle to scare a clown. When I comment – and I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t let her go out like that – she flies into a rage and wipes it all off, using a wad of my expensive daily facials to punish me.

She sits in the back seat, mutinous, seething, her eyes brimming, all the way to school. It is my fault she didn’t wake up on time, that she hates her clothes, that her hair is a mop, that her face is “blurry” and that she didn’t have time to eat breakfast. She gets out and slams the door. If I tell her goodbye and I love her, I am ruining everything. If I don’t tell her, I am a horrible mother. Either way, she hates me.

I suppose I should be used to it, as she is the third girl, but my eldest was only too pleased to come home and tell me all her adventures of the day, and she still loves to shop. On her worst days she was just a little mouthy. My middle daughter is essentially sweet-tempered, with a sensitive nature, occasionally sulky but that’s hidden under a lot of energy; naturally, she’s a cheerleader. I always thought my youngest, my snuggle bunny, would remain close to me; after all, she slept in my bed for eons, stuck to me like glue through every up and down we’ve had in the past few years and she’s still the one I think of as my girl.

But I guess there’s one in every bunch, and she’s it. With more changes ahead of us –another move, a new school and the shrieking roller coaster called puberty – I guess I should put on my safety goggles and helmet and do like the Alameda Fire Department and Red Cross keep telling us – be prepared.

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