My hands wrap tighter around the steering wheel of the silver minivan, and I feel my body steel like armor, attempting to protect itself from the barbs coming from the back seat.
I remind myself not to engage. She’s tired, you’re tired. Hormones, definitely for her, possibly for me, are invading this conversation that is starting to take a nosedive.
The familiar feeling of frustration spreads throughout my body as I listen to my daughter complain. I try to control my temper as she tells me she forgot something at school again. She snaps nastily when I ask if she finished something at home, admonishing me for not trusting her.
I don’t like the words I am hearing, nor the attitude that drips into every conversation, no matter how innocuous the subject matter. I worry about the person she is becoming, wonder where I went wrong.
“Don’t respond,” I chant to myself. “Be the adult.”
Her tone is laden with disdain, my nerves fray. I tell myself that this is a phase, remind myself of her positive attributes, which are many.
I attempt to change the conversation, trying to avoid the minefield topics that always result in a lecture from me and eyeball rolls from her. I struggle with steering her away from the negativity. I ask questions, she coldly remarks, I accuse, she defends. The game is the same and endless each time.
I finally crack, like the first hit of an egg. Anger oozes slowly out at first, then dumps out of me with no end in sight.
I have an out-of-body experience. I hear the words coming out of my mouth but they don’t sound like mine. They are loud and accusatory. Mean spirited and judgmental. Not appropriate for a conversation with a young girl.
Yet they pour out of me fast and furious for several minutes. She sits in the back seat, looking out the window, her jaw set. I can almost feel the hard clench of her teeth.
The last traffic signal before our house turns a dull yellow and I slam on my brakes to slow down. My words and vehicle freeze simultaneously as the light turns red.
We are both silent as I drive the last half of a mile home and pull into our dimly lit garage. She gets out first, and I watch her tiny frame walk quickly into the house.
I sit by myself, hands still gripping the steering wheel tightly, and wonder: “How did I get here?”
I replay the scene in my mind from beginning to end. It is not pretty. I am not proud.
I want to take the words back, but you can’t un-crack an egg.
I inhale deeply, trying to quash the tears that brim my heavy eyes. I feel defeated. I feel ashamed.
How can something I love the most in this world bring out the worst in me? How do I bring out the worst in her?
I slowly get out of the car and enter the door of our home, the safe haven for my family.
I putter around, keeping my eyes cast downward. Five people are in the kitchen, all stealing glances at each other to see who is brave enough to slice the cord of tension in the room first. There is no banter or giggles.
It is an uncommon occurrence lately for the air to be heavy when my daughter and I walk into a room. It is not a secret that our relationship is strained, and it is a weight each person in our household must bear.
I put plates in the dishwasher and wipe crumbs off the counter, my mind occupied with the events that transpired moments before. My husband catches my eyes and lifts his eyebrows. He is painfully aware of how fast my daughter and I can go off the rails, bearing witness to the event on more than one occasion.
I nod my head up and down with pursed lips, signaling to him that yes, it happened again. I mouth the word “later,” hoping he understands I can’t go there just yet.
I head to the couch, and flop down, hoping the brown leather will swallow me whole, taking away the person that lost it on the little girl in the car.
I flip on the television, and toss the remote to the side. First one member, than another, and another, join me in the family room as we zone out for a few minutes before bedtime, sitting together, yet alone.
I hear my daughter behind me, shuffling papers and packing her bag for school the next day. I close my eyes, willing my body to go back in time.
I startle when I feel the warmth of a person sitting suddenly beside me. Without turning my head, I look at the sock-clad feet of my daughter, and marvel that we nearly wear the same size. I take a deep breath and inhale her familiar smell of sweat and outside. I slowly move my arm up and around to the back of the sofa, like a young boy trying to make a move on his date.
I exhale when surprisingly she leans in to the crook of my body, leaning her head into my chest. I wrap my arm her shoulder, cautiously bringing her closer into me.
We sit as one, connected, for a few beautiful moments. Our breaths are synchronized, our souls aligned. We are better without words, our relationship stronger minus conversation. At least for now.
When the show is over, she slowly stands up, turns to face me and says, “I’m going to get ready for bed. And I’ll go put my laundry away.”
I look deep into her eyes, and see a reflection of my own. I recognize she is waving a metaphorical white flag, so I smile and simply say, “Thanks.”
There will be no resolution tonight, no comfortable denouement to this particular chapter.
But I comfort myself knowing that neither of us are giving up, and my heart tells me we will somehow come out on the other side of this storm.
I drag my weary body off the couch and notice my daughter’s library book sitting on the counter.
I decide not to make her come downstairs to put it away tonight. I decide not to remind her she needs to be more responsible for her things or more organized.
Instead, I decide to give grace to my daughter, instead of a lecture, encouragement instead of complaints.
I grab a pink post-it note out of a drawer and write, “I am proud to be your mother. Love, Mom,” and stick it hastily on the front cover of the young adult novel.
I shove the book in her overcrowded backpack, and leave my hand on it for a moment, sighing with relief that I’m ending the night with her better than the last.
I can’t un-crack an egg. But I can try to treat the next one with care.