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It's 2:30 in the afternoon. I hear downshifting and the protest of brakes. I imagine a big yellow bus, lights flashing and stopping traffic, is spitting out my firstborn.
I don't rush to the window. I just wait. And listen.
Any second now. ...
The door opens. And closes. A heavy bag drops onto the floor with a thud. For a moment, there is silence.
I hear a cheerful, “Hi, mom” from the kitchen; a rummaging through the refrigerator; bouncing steps to the door; and a quick “I'm goin' outside!” before it opens again, and she's gone. The sound of a basketball slapping against the driveway and hitting the backboard ricochets through the living room. And with a random cadence, there is calm.
I take a new, deep breath, realizing I had been holding on to that last one for a while.
We always hope that girl gets off the bus. She is happy. She does her homework, feeds the cat, makes lists of all the things she's going to do before summer. She starts checking them off one by one, singing as she goes. She plays with her brother, she lends him books and doesn't even mind when he tries to annoy her. She might even tell us about what happened in school, skipping through to the good parts.
She makes it easy to feel like a successful parent.
As if we had anything to do with it. We recognize this girl since the day she was born, trying so hard to stand on her own. She was always THAT kid.
Another girl arrives home in her place more often these days. A sullen twin, who rarely smiles. She brushes her hair over her eye, and hangs her head at an uncomfortable angle. She doesn't want to talk about her day.
This girl complains that she has nothing to wear; we have nothing to eat; and that someone hid her basketball. She stomps upstairs and slams her door. She wants to be left alone in her hurricane of a room. She doesn't want to be reminded to do her homework or feed the cat or brush her teeth. She doesn't want to be questioned about anything.
She is painting adolescence on her face and trying on its clothes, becoming delighted with the fit and expressing it in a new language of disdain. “You couldn't possibly understand how it feels to be me.”
We have become uncomfortable furniture.
But this girl is familiar, too. My husband may not recognize her right away, but my parents might. This girl lived in their house during the late 80s, had raccoon eyes and listened to Pink Floyd albums in the darkness of her room. This girl worried them, too.
Apple, meet tree.
We love this girl, too, even though we feel better when she's not around.
“Well, you might like her but I don't,” says her brother. “She never lets me do anything anymore. … and she's made the basketball hoop too high.”