My phone lit up the dark of my car. Tossed on the seat next to me, I could see my daughter's face on the screen, and one line of text:
“When are you getting home?”
The subtext was clear: “You should have been back by now …
“And I am tired. And working on homework. And need you for some reason I won't say, even if you beg. Any such exchange will diminish my autonomy as a burgeoning teenager.
“Also … we're out of milk.”
I didn't answer the question. Nor did I enquire about its urgency. At the traffic circle, I just told my empty car that I was on my way. As soon as there was an opening I'd weave myself in.
I hadn't been gone long. There was another adult at home, so I knew there wasn't an emergency. But I understand the crazy perspective of time. When we're waiting on it, we don't control how it moves.
Time speeds up and stands still, sometimes simultaneously.
She was smiling when I arrived. I was the victim she had selected for her homework assignment: A study of peer pressure in the modern age.
Apparently, the object was to ask an older member of your family four simple questions about what social jousting was like before the evolution of Snapchat. And I was that relic.
“What was peer pressure like when you were a teen?”
My eyes shone. What an opportunity! Not only would I be put on the spot – asked to reveal the deepest, darkest core of my misspent youth – but I could effectively reflect the searing light of mortification onto her and her 32 classmates just by answering honestly.
An honest answer – I suspected – is not what the teacher expected.
“Please keep in mind that your comments should be clean, free of expletives, and in no way should they include unvarnished truths. Varnish away, please.”
She knows me. But knowing me also assumes I have trouble adhering to the guidelines.
“Peer pressure is probably the same now as it was when I was a kid. The big things (whispers: sex, drugs, criminal misdemeanors) and little things (curfew violations, rebellious attitudes, acting against your own best judgment) are typical adolescent transgressions from the established norm. It happens. We all feel pressure to do uncomfortable things. Sometimes it's for the best (I quit smoking!). Sometimes not:(I start smoking in the first place). The strange thing is I've come to understand peer pressure never stops if I'm honest. You just have to hope that having more time here on Earth helps you develop coping skills.”
“Yeah … I'm just going to go with that first part – 'Not much has changed' -- and leave it at that.”
I shrugged my shoulders.
We next traversed the dicey terrain of my most embarrassing moment (which was mostly about being immediately and irrevocably disappointed in my own behavior) and the age I was when I first felt peer pressure's downward forces (earlier than I expected).
The most important question, though was this: “How did you resist peer pressure?” Its answer was a bit of a surprise to me as well:
“I guess I used my parents. I'd out myself for whatever mess I'd made then I'd blame them unabashedly for holding me back. I'd act mad at being grounded, but I was secretly relieved.”
“That's a pretty good trick. Terrible but effective.”
“Sometimes you just need something in the subtext. ... By the way, I got your milk.”