Archive for the ‘Uh-oh. Teenage Daughter.’ Category

Made a huge mistake this morning, driving to school with Alani and her friend Laurie in the back seat.

The two girls were talking about one of their classmates at school.  Because a parent was in the vicinity, Laurie went to secret code, referring to the classmate as “whathisname”, and about a conversation she and Alani had had about “youknowwhat”.

I broke the secret code.  Based on some clues, I knew who whathisname was.  I even had a pretty good idea what youknowwhat was.

“I know who you’re talking about,” I said.

“Who?” Laurie demanded.

“Oh, I know,” I bragged.

“Who?” Laurie demanded.

“He knows,” Alani said.  She can tell if I’m bluffing.

I say whathisname’s name.

This was idiotic.  In World War II, the Allies broke the secret code used by the German’s in radio and telegraph communications.  Did they brag about this to the Nazis?  No.  They pretended like they hadn’t figured out the code.  They did this so that the Germans would keep talking, oblivious to the fact that they had been figured out.

Sure enough, as soon as they realized I knew who they were talking about, Alani and Laurie fell completely silent.  

I’ve learned my lesson.  If you want to get occasional glimpses into the secret life of your teenage daughter, be quiet, be invisible.


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I’m standing in line to talk to the ninth grade guidance counselor at Bleeding Crown of Thorns Catholic Girls High School.  Miss Guidance.

It’s new parents night at Bleeding Crown of Thorns. 

Miss Guidance looks young.  Blonde hair, hip clothes, makeup – a contrast to the nuns-in-street clothes look of most of the school administrators.  In her talk before the entire assembly, she referred repeatedly the students as “my girls”.

We haven’t yet decided where Alani will go to school.  It’s down to two choices: 1) Bleeding Crown of Thorns, or 2) Fancy Wasp Prep School.  Alani prefers Fancy Prep.  She’s articulated many thoughtful reasons for her preference, including small classes, top-notch teachers, and the theater program.  I suspect, however, that her choice is 90% driven by two factors:  1) boys, and 2) uniforms.

The Catholic school is all girls.  Alani is 13, and dreads four years on a boy-less desert island.  She also loves clothes, fingernail polish and shoes.  She has a pair of Timberland women’s boots that get her compliments wherever she goes: black suede, up to just below the knee, with extensive grommets and laces.  A grown woman once yelled out “That’s what I’m  talking about!” when Alani walked by in those boots.

I realize, waiting to talk to Miss Guidance, that Alani and two of her friends are standing in the same line.  I step aside when we reach the front of the  line, curious to hear what the girls will ask.

They don’t ask about AP science courses.

Alani’s friend Katrina asks about the dress code.  Miss Guidance describes the permitted style of white blouse.  She draws a demure little curve below her neck, describing the required collar shape for the blouse.  Plaid uniform skirts, she says, with a different plaid for each class.  No pants under the skirts.  Leggings yes, pants no.

“No heels,” Miss Guidance says.  “Flats or tennis shoes only.”   She zeroes in on Alani’s Timberland boots.  “You couldn’t wear those,” she says. 

I suddenly don’t like her.  She seems more Mean Girl than kindly guidance counselor.

When it is Alani’s turn to ask a question, she displays her fingernails.  She’s painted each nail with little Swedish flags – a yellow cross on a blue field.  (Alani is rooting for the Swedish Olympic ice hockey team, because its full of players from her beloved Detroit Red Wings).

“What about this?” Alani asks, thrusting her Swedish flags toward Miss Guidance. 

Miss Guidance looks.  She says – grudgingly, it seems to me – that Alani’s fingernails would be permitted.

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I’m at a party in Hollywood, snagging crabcakes and Perrier from the roving waiters with their little round trays.

Alani got a small part in a movie. They just finished editing it, and this is the private screening party for cast, crew, and parent-hanger-ons.

Most of the actors are kids, and the event is heavy with moms. Some of them have actually moved to L.A. with their aspiring actor-children, leaving the dad at home a thousand miles away, to pursue the Holy Grail of child stardom. There is feverish talk of auditions, acting coaches, and t.v commercials.

Party attendees monitor the exact position and movements of the Director, Famous Girl, New Boy Star from England, and the other important people.

I am relieved to find a fellow dad. He owns an insurance business in Michigan. We are the men in tan khakis and brown shoes, in a sea of Hollywood guys wearing expensive jeans, fancy eyeglasses, and hair that seems unusually luxuriant and well cared-for.

I’m pleased to have on my dad uniform on in this crowd. I wish I’d gone whole-hog, and worn a plaid shirt.

The other dad and I talk about his insurance business, my work, and the tool and die shops that used to line Eight Mile Road in Detroit.

I keep an eye on Alani, who roams the party with the pack of girl actors.

Some of the girls, aged 13-14, are already competing with too-short skirts and glittery makeup. Surgical enhancements have not yet made an appearance. Two of them attach themselves with ferocious friendliness to Famous Girl, who has the lead in the movie. They flank her on either side. When Famous Girl moves, they move, right-left-right, manuevering with the precision of jet fighters in formation. When the Director’s Daughter arrives for the screening, the two girls make a quick calculation and suddenly abandon Famous Girl, attaching themselves with the same ferocity to Director’s Daughter.

Alani, thank god, does not have the same predatory instincts.

Years ago I read an account by a grown woman about her dad: how, when she was a high school student with a brand new driver’s license, he’d drive behind her to school on winter days when the roads were slippery, to make sure she arrived safely. She didn’t know at the time that her dad was doing this – he hid himself several cars back. She found out years later. For me, this story illustrated the essence of a dad’s job, once a daughter reaches the teenage years: let them spread their wings, but keep them in sight, and keep them safe.

Alani’s passion is acting, and she works hard at it. I respect her determination. But this Hollywood route seems an icy, treacherous road for a girl to travel.

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Two weeks ago my daughter asked if I wanted to chaperone a sleepover event at the school.  It was a fundraiser.  She called it a “lock-in.”  I told her yeah, I’d chaperone.

We were driving to Louies for dinner before her theater practice.

“You wouldn’t be all, ‘strict dad’ would you?” she asked as we turned onto Mack.

I considered.  “No.  I’d just be ‘safety dad'” I said.  For example, I explained, I wouldn’t want kids wandering off into remote areas of the school without supervision.  Even eighth graders.

Alani mulled this over.  As we slid into a booth at Louie’s, she thanked me for my interest in chaperoning, but told me she’d decided to go in a different direction.


No, I told her, I’d chaperone the lock-in. 

Alani shook her head.  She told me she’d already talked to Teacher Kristen, who was coordinating the event, about whether I should chaperone.  Teacher Kristen, Alani reported now, had asked if Alani would be “comfortable” with me chaperoning.  Alani expressed some misgivings, and Teacher Kristen (according to Alani), assured my daughter that if she wasn’t “comfortable”, then I would not be invited to chaperone.

What?   Alani wasn’t asking me if I was going to chaperone.  She was interviewing me for the job, and I’d failed the interview.

I was steamed.  Since when do a teacher and an 13-year-old decide who should chaperone a school event?  Isn’t that something the teacher and the parents decide?

I told Alani that, guess what?  I was CHAPERONING.  I told her I’d have a TALK with Teacher Kristen.  I think I waved my fork in the air as I made these pronouncements.

Alani retreated into stony silence for the remainder of the meal.  So did I. 

I realized later that I’m playing a weak hand.  Yes, I can still wield the authority that goes with the title of “Dad” a little while longer.  But increasingly, my daughter will develop relationships with other adults – high school teachers, guidance counselors, the director of her theater group.  My influence will wane if it’s  based on a raw assertion of my authority as King Dad.

I understand Alani’s concerns about my presence in the midst of her social life. I can be intrusive.  When I picked her up at school, I used to do something I called the “Let’s Go Dance” if she was dawdling with her friends.  It was a dance medley so hideously embarassing to her that she would be out the door within seconds when I performed it in front of her classmates.

This past weekend I accompanied her class on a different event – a field trip to a Quaker meetinghouse in Ann Arbor. I was on my best behavior.   

“You won’t even know I’m there,” I assured Alani. 

I did good. I was quiet and inobtrusive.  Except for that one part, where I thought it would be funny to hoist Alani over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, in full view of her friends, and carry her, kicking wildly, out of the room.  That maybe was a mistake.

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When we pull in the driveway, I see our empty garbage cans  strewn by the curb, where the garbage men tossed them.   I ask Alani to bring them up the driveway.

“Are you going to pay me?” Alani asks, getting out of the car.

“Yeah,” I say.  “You get to live here.”

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I’m talking to Alani in the middle of a jostling crowd in downtown Detroit.  It’s an annual event, Noel Night.  I’m leaving.  Deborah, a grown woman who has been an extra parent to Alani since pre-k, will be with Alani and her friend Anna. 

But the girls are intoxicated by the night and the scent of fellow adolescents in the crowd.  They are both thirteen, quick, and wily.  Deborah’s no match for them if they decide to accidentally-on-purpose ditch her.

I want to make sure Alani understands she has to stay with Deborah. 

“You have to stay…” I begin, talking loud so she can hear me over the dull roar of  crowd.

Alani interrupts.  “I know, I know,” she says.  “Mom told me.”  She waves her hand at me dismissively.  “Ciao,” she says.

Yeah.  A “Ciao” from my thirteen-year-old daughter.

“No,” I say to her.  “Listen.  It’s not Deborah’s job to keep you in sight.  It’s your job to keep her in sight.”

From the pained expression on her face, you’d think that I’d told her to keep her ear muffs snug. 

“I know,” she says.

I watch her go, swept up in a rush of people ascending the stairs at the Detroit Institute of Arts. She turns to look at me once before the crowd swallows her up.

These are the dangerous years. 

I remember my sister warning me, when Alani first learned to walk at thirteen months, to be watchful.  They can fall down stairs, she said, open kitchen cabinets, walk out the front door.  A year old baby is mobile, but has no understanding of danger.

Now I realize that the same can be said of a thirteen-year-old.  It’s not bottles of Drano beneath the sink I worry about now.  It’s that even in this wonderful, milling, festive Christmas crowd, there is someone who might hurt my daughter if they had the opportunity.

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Jack told us that his first grade class was going to a nursing home next week to bring holiday baskets to old people.

Alani was impressed. “Wow, you’re doing that in first grade?” she said.  ” That will look good on your resume.”

She’s not joking. 

When did children start worrying about about their “resumes”?   And when did they start seeing kindness to old people as a way to pad them?


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