She twirls her hair around her finger, brings it to her mouth and starts to chew nervously. Another tendril morsel, I call it.
She rolls her eyes.
I hate that.
But it's nothing compared to the voice she's been cultivating in the pressure-cooker that is middle school. It makes me think her friends lead her around by the nose.
I ask her to stop.
She breathes deeply and, for a few moments speaks in the voice I know and love. But soon the nasal twang returns as I try to wheedle out tidbits from her day.
With a string of one-word responses to my barrage of questions, she tells me what a drag I'm being.
“... Sure ...
“... Fine ...
“... Whatever ...
“... I dunno …”
No matter how I try, I can't extract a drop of information. It is clear I'm just an annoyance. I am the person who can no longer cook eggs properly. Or who forgets to buy celery. The person who should just drive her to dance class and disappear.
“Are we done here?”
Now it's my turn to breathe deeply as I release her.
There's no amount of cajoling that will unblock this dam. Information is hers to trickle. She has to work the controls, and I have to await the rise and fall of waterworks. Neither of us has much patience for the other's schedule.
It's hard to hold back. Hard to sit and watch cracks appear and puddles form. Hard to say nothing.
I do a lousy job of playing it cool.
I'm not sure why we can't be friends, but that's what the experts say is verboten. From her perspective, at least, I think I'm probably in no danger of losing that battle.
She doesn't even think we're on the same side.
That smarts a bit.
"You always stand up for people who hurt my feelings. You always take their side," she accuses. "It feels like you don't believe me."
It's not that I don't believe ... It's just that I know what we believe has a habit of tripping us up.
I haven't been able to explain it to her, though not for not trying. Unless one is running for an elected position, beliefs never get easier to convey.
"You have to trust me, I just know," makes about as much sense to her as "someday you'll understand," does to me.
Of course, I'm faking it.
I don't know for sure that she'll one day understand or that she'll understand it my way. I don't know that everything will be ok. I just keep my fingers crossed and stop myself from walking under ladders.
Ideas change. Authority shifts. Facts split apart and reform in all sorts of new shapes.
We struggle for a while, but then we adapt.
Last year I was cooking with olive oil and trying to lower fat intake and this year I'm wondering how I can find ethically produced lard and buying whole milk.
I'd be lying if I said I felt confident in any of my choices. All I have is hope that the good ones will balance out the bad ones.
Eventually, night will come and with it the close of another day. Maybe this night she will ask me to read her a story, for old-time's sake.
Maybe she will tell me her sadness.
I will listen.
And when she's through, I will tuck the sheets up under her chin and remove the tendril from her mouth.
She will sleep, and I will dream.