But Wilt Thou Woo This Wild Cat?

She’s doing her nightly thing: listening to music; checking her social media, chipping away at homework. When a favorite song comes on, the volume goes up. When a new text comes in, her fingers tap. When a page of Spanish is memorized, I hear it flip.

I’m standing eight feet away, folding laundry. She has no idea I’m engaging in one of my most-successful strategies for parenting a teenager. From where she sits, I’m pairing socks, folding sheets, making stacks of shirts. From where I stand, I’m conveniently nearby in case my fourteen-year-old cares to share. Although the patent is still pending, this strategy is known as Catching the Conversational Crumb, or C3.

Fourteen is not an age that responds well to direct questions. If I ask, “So how was your day? Anything up in your world?” she’s apt to stare silently at me for a beat and then bend her head over her backpack and start rustling around, in search of an important pencil. If she’s in a chatty mood, she might allow, “What would be up in my world? I’m fourteen. I went to school. Now I’m home.”

I actually enjoy such answers. They give me a chance to spout nonsense: “Yea, but what if one day Selena Gomez stopped by gym class and taught you all how to gaze mournfully into a camera while singing about ex-boyfriends? And what if you forgot to tell me unless I asked?”

Her terse answers also let me appreciate that the girl who was once labeled a “no-bullshit baby” is growing up true to self.  Even more, her unwillingness to let conversations with her parents become interviews is, in its I-Will-Shut-You-Down fashion, somehow charming. Indeed, while teenagers may strike adults as close-lipped or stubbornly removed, there’s another way to view it.  If I flip the dynamic and consider being greeted at the door with “How was your day? Anything new happen? Learn anything interesting? What’s up with your friends? Are you hungry? Do you have anything due tomorrow?”–the whole scenario makes me screamy because FOR THE LOVE OF BIEBER, A LITTLE SPACE, PLEASE.

Teenagers are cats, not dogs. I get that.

Thus, my  C3 laundry-folding strategy is feline. I’m not in the room because of her. I don’t need to look at or talk to her. I’m just there, doing my thing. I can take or leave her.

Naturally, my indifference is attractive. Like a prickly Siamese, she crawls–figuratively–into my lap, kneading her paws and claws into my thigh before settling in. I keep my back to her, and she offers, “I love this new song,” turning it up.

Still not looking at her, I ask, “Is it off a new album?” She tells me about tour dates and opening acts. On the heels of that, she tells me how her friend Amy stumbled across a really great cover of this one awesome song on YouTube.

“Can I hear it?” I dare.

Nothing would give her more pleasure, in fact. While the cover of the really awesome song plays, she tells me something corny her geometry teacher said. Still not looking at her, still folding clothes, I do not ask a question; instead I note, “I really liked Mrs. Peterson when we went to the open house at the start of the school year. She seemed like someone I would have enjoyed as an English teacher–very in touch, in love with books, down-to-earth…”

And with that, my kitten becomes a puppy. The light inside her flips on, and she bounces in her chair. “Oh my God, that reminds me of something that happened in English! It was so funny!”

Now that she’s in dog mode, I can pet her. Turning, looking at her, I give her my full attention and demand, “Do tell.”

Sitting with one foot tucked under her, spinning around in the desk chair, she recaps, “When we were reading Romeo and Juliet out loud today, there was this moment at the ball when a couple of the characters announced they were going off into another room to have some drinks. After we read that part, a boy in my class goes, ‘My mom calls that book group.’

I hoot. She giggles. We repeat her classmate’s line and agree: that’s hilarious.

Apparently, Mrs. Peterson thought so, too. After snorting with laughter, she told the wise-cracking student, “I don’t know your mom, but I think I like her.”

And then. My teenager, who sometimes can’t be bothered to say “Fine” when asked about her day, makes mine.

She tells me, “When he said that about his mom, I immediately thought of you, too. In a good way.”

Flattered to have been a thought in my fourteen-year-old’s mind, I acknowledge, “I surely do love to go into a room with friends and have some drinks.”

“I know. I mean, you’re not a crazy lady who has to drink all the time, but you’re a lady who is crazy for her drinks.”

With that subtle, accurate parsing of her mother’s controlled but passionate love of a cocktail, my girl confirmed it: between her observational skills and her ability to make connections, she’d make one hell of an English major.

Actually, she’ll make one hell of an anything.

Even though she’s currently in the feline teenage years, all of her everything is there, inside her, ripening. Sometimes I know what’s in there. Many days, I don’t.

However, no matter how much or little she feels like sharing, one thing is certain: tumbling around with her music and her friends and her skiing and her running and her homework and her classmates and her love of travel and her passion for chocolate, I am inside her, too–fermenting more than ripening, but I’m there.

And being there is one of the greatest honors of my life.



I could type more about my teenager and her astute observations, but she’s on the floor next to me right now, having crawled into the living room on her knees, holding open a book of cities around the world, propping it on my lap while reading aloud about super cool island cities that she wants to visit.

All it took to get her there, on her knees beside me, was this:

I left her in the kitchen alone and ignored her.







11 responses to “But Wilt Thou Woo This Wild Cat?”

  1. Joanne Avatar

    People, just like anyone else. And, she likes you.

  2. Lil Avatar

    “I know. I mean, you’re not a crazy lady who has to drink all the time, but you’re a lady who is crazy for her drinks.”

    How do I love thee, let me count the ways.

  3. PIsham Avatar

    Love, love, love this! It’s the problem with the old idea of scheduling “quality time.” You have to just hang around a lot so you can be there when that ephemeral moment floats by. So blessed to have found your writing–thanks!

  4. kmkat Avatar

    You are sooo wise in the ways of teenagers! When I got to the line about teenagers being feline I nearly cheered, but I am at a computer in the library, and even though our librarian is totally fine with a little noise, that seemed excessive.

    btw, I would have loved to have YOU as a mom back in the day 😉

  5. Secret Agent Woman Avatar

    I love this. My own teen spent two hours talking animatedly with me about the difficult-to-fathom rules of dating today. I think of it as the reward for the storms you weather with them.

  6. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    EXACTLY how you do it. Well played, madam. Well played.
    And I dig her style, this kid of yours.

  7. ds Avatar

    Teenagers are cats, not dogs. Oh, yesssssssss! Well played, Mama. Well played, indeed! (Wish I’d had that English teacher, too).

  8. Kate Avatar

    People can say what they like about teenage girls. I think mine (and yours) is awesome. I find that, like you, I get a lot out of her if I’m available and not too nosy. Or if we go running together (although I did have to spend one trail run explaining why some people like to read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and why I think it is the suckiest erotica I have ever encountered). And since the farther reaches of the house are cold in the wintertime, it works to my advantage. The kids will give up the solitude of their rooms for the sake of warmth.

  9. Friko Avatar

    Dear me, you do jump around.
    I had no idea you had blogged in January in spite of following you AND having you in my blogroll.

    Is that the same mechanism you employ with your delightful daughter? Ignoring us? Until we come crawling?

    Your girl is fine and so are you.

  10. Maria Avatar

    You’ve hit it on the head. I work daily at NOT looking needy. When we shop, I do crazy things like kind of nudge her towards that one dress, but when she picks it up, I dismiss it immediately, looking away. All it takes. She wants it. It’s a calculated dance and in some ways, I kind of enjoy it. This is going to sound creepy, but I swear it isn’t! Some days, it is like getting that one guy to look at you in college. I was a master of ignoring guys in bars that I wanted to dance with. Worked every time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way with my wife, though. She refuses to put up with game playing of any kind. Pity. My daughter and I play daily and she doesn’t even know it…..and now I am preening with how clever how I am. This will last about a half hour.

  11. Meg Avatar

    I love teenagers. Especially yours. And mine.

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