By Sandy Burgham
So, she’s got to 21, pierced but not deflated, sprinkled with tattoos but ironically anti-brand, penniless but independent, a little bruised yet fully resilient. My daughter has character, with strains of what some might see as my most unappealing traits — mouthy and anti-establishment — but what I love most, is that she is unimpressed by bullshit.
She’s an artist. Not that I even know what that means anymore. She apparently loves me, despite me being “a capitalist”. She swings from being withering to adoring of her Dad, and after years of being a horrendous bully to her younger brother, she is now fiercely protective of him and pretty much on his side all the time. In our family of four, it’s now an “Us vs Them” situation, with a lot of open, critical commentary about my husband’s and my relationship, and our parenting skills. Argh. She lectures me on feminism. Me! I’m the one doing the degree in gender studies, remember? I broke through a glass ceiling, I have had four bloody careers! But what the hell would I know? Allegedly, I “don’t get it”.
Over the last 21 years, I’ve been busy; had my eye off the ball at times, overcompensating by being too hands-on at others. To be honest, we spent a lot of time fighting and then cuddling, watching movies, then fighting, then talking, then fighting, then laughing. My mantra in her teen years? OMG what now? You have got to be bloody joking . . . I have been mortified by some of her actions, until my sister reminded me of what I was doing at that age, in those years before social media recorded your mistakes for posterity.
These days, our kids are in tribes that seem so distinct compared to the middle-of-the-road herd we largely were in the 80s, moving en masse to Duran Duran and the Stones after a flirtation with punk and New Wave. I see many tribes now amongst older teens and kidults – the heavily made-up Kardashian types, the ‘perfect’ exercise-obsessed Lululemon wearers, the psychologically anxious, the super-ambitious academics. I guess she is in the “alternative” tribe, but I don’t really know, and anyway, she HATES that term.
Once, when I was deploring her antics as posted on social media, desperately wanting her to be more mainstream — probably so I wouldn’t be judged as a terrible mother — she asked me, “So what do you want me to do — put on a silly hat and go to the f**king races and drink Lindauer?” My thought was more along the lines of, actually I was rather hoping you’d just go to the library all day, then come to the movies with me. Fat chance. I can say with certainty she’s not in the Kardashian-lookalike tribe.
I thought her childhood would last forever. It felt like I’d be waiting outside jazz ballet, tapping on my cellphone, for the rest of my life; a life where I’d always be racing to New World at 9pm on a Sunday night to buy the lunchbox food desired. It seemed I would be combing out nits till I died. To be honest, a lot of this parenting was pretty tedious. And unnecessarily expensive. Especially those ridiculous, over-the-top birthday parties I staged (what the hell was I thinking?).
So, what sticks? The funny moments, the hilarious exchanges, the listening and sharing; just lying on the couch with my baby girl or awkward teen in my arms. Stroking her hair. I want to do that for the rest of my life, but I guess within a blink of an eye she will be stroking my hair, making me soft foods and taking me for a walk.
Of course, she’s not exactly going anywhere. She’s flatting in what appears to be some sort of hippie commune in Ponsonby. I know she’s not going anywhere fast because she has no actual money. I can’t stand those parents who only tell you the good stuff about their kids, selling them to the world like a personal brand extension. Our daughter is as deeply flawed as she is completely fabulous. Aren’t they all? Aren’t we all?
She has a life, not the one I had prepared for her earlier, but her own. She has an emerging value set, with some values at odds with mine, and she has opinions. Quite a few of them. She was born on an Easter Sunday. And quite fittingly, it has been a little like the Easter Show – the roller coaster or perhaps the ghost train – laughter and screams, when deep down we know there is nothing to worry about. And as the carriage has slammed through those final doors into the sunshine and normality, I’m left feeling a little dazed. So world, she is all yours. Brace yourself.
— Sandy Burgham
This post first appeared in The Hobson May, 2017