Tuesday, July 24, 2007

6 hours in 1 car with a 13-year-old

I recently drove to Alabama to visit family, and came back with an unexpected passenger: a childhood friend's 13-year-old daughter. The girl's father lives near Charlotte, and she wanted to squeeze in a visit before school started.

After I'd agreed she could come along, I immediately began to fret. Over six hours in a car with a 13-year-old? How would I entertain her? Surely my iPod Shuffle's lineup of soul tunes, '80s hair metal and the opening strains of "Carmina Burana" would have her politely asking to be dropped off at the next rest stop. So we'd have to actually converse. What on earth would we talk about?

I was even more panicked when my old friend dropped off her daughter for the trip. Daughter? With her perfectly-applied lip gloss, glamorous sunglasses and Dolce & Gabbana purse (courtesy of daddy), she looked more like a 18-year-old young lady than a 13-year-old child. Still, her mom tucked her into my passenger seat with a kiss and a "now, you mind Miss Deirdre," (I inwardly groaned at that) and sent us on our way.

The first few minutes were deeply silent, with only the hum of air conditioner and her rustles through that costly little D&G purse. Then we began to make small talk. And then, since I'm forever curious about relationships of any kind, I seized upon her stray comment about a boyfriend her mother knew nothing about.

The floodgates opened and she talked nonstop for the next six hours.

Even in the era of e-mails, texting and cell phone minutes, some things never change; the kids still pass notes in class and hang out at the skating rink and meet up at the movies. What I found most fascinating was her claim that she's already had five boyfriends. After more questions I remembered that there's really no dating when you're 13; there's only "going with" someone (now it's also "hooking up"), and "talking to" someone, and rotating names in one's mental file of crushes. The girl talked of one boyfriend she'd secured when her best friend called the guy and asked if he wanted to "go with her." He said yes and bam -- it was a done deal. Break-ups are just as arbitrary, handed down over the phone or via note or e-mail, or simply by ignoring the other person until they get the message. "Cheating" can be as simple as a boy having a conversation with another girl. It's all fluid and experimental and surface-level; young ones practicing an adult game.

And yet, this 13-year-old has a good head on her shoulders. She earns great grades, plays on the basketball team and has a tribe of friends she calls her "brothers" and her "sisters." She has a poise and a confidence that I never had as a teenager, and I applaud her mother for raising such a well-balanced child. She told me about a boy who, after she repeatedly turned down his invitations for movies and such, had gotten frustrated and called her "fat." ("I'm not fat, I'm thick. There's a difference," she told me she'd replied. Connoisseurs of the curvy black female form can testify to the accuracy of that statement.) He'd also punched her in the face, she added. I was mortified at the lack of home training on his part, but she breezily explained she'd thrown him across the room. He hasn't bothered her since.

With all this talk of boyfriends, I was getting antsy. Just what was she doing with these boys? But when I asked if she'd ever kissed any of her boyfriends, she said "NO" so emphatically that I believed her. Later in the conversation she shared that she and her best friend "sister swore" that they would remain virgins until they got married.

"A sister swear, that's SERIOUS and important," she said solemnly. "You can't break it. Ever." Her naivete was endearing -- and my sigh of relief was so great ("she's not putting out!"), my foot almost slipped off the gas pedal.

By the end of the trip we were listening to her mix CDs and she was showing me her favorite dances. When we pulled into the parking lot to meet the waiting car, she piled out, all giggles and energy. She gave me a big hug when I handed over her bag. "I had fun!" she announced.

I waved as I pulled away. I was exhausted. But I had fun, too.


Anonymous said...

It is because you aren't her mother that this young girl was so open with you.

If one day you have your own daughter, don't be offended when your daughter doesn't open up to you - but hopefully your friend or her daughter can be the person that your daughter confides in.

Anonymous said...

Well written........

Anonymous said...

Great story!

Anonymous said...

Kids are much more 'savvy" than before. ;)

Anonymous said...

Good Tale

Anonymous said...

who writes this crap?

Luis Medina said...

I find it hard to believe a responsible adult would champion this child's practice of racially segregating herself and her black friends by calling them her "brothers and sisters".

If a white child did that, it would regarded as a supremacist tactic.

Deirdre McGruder said...

Uh, her group of friends is like her family, so she literally considers them her siblings -- brothers and sisters. Nothing racial about it.