invisible from earth

March 14th, 2019

My smiley 13-year-old came home from school one afternoon, stepped into the kitchen where I stood at the sink and instantly blurted out a stream of gibberish that sounded like so-and-so asked me if I wanted to date him and I said yes.

I’m pretty sure I paused in thoughtful reflection before I said the wrong thing. I’m pretty sure I paused because 1) I’d never heard of the boy named so-and-so, and 2) I couldn’t conceive of how two children their age could go on anything approximating my idea of a date. My next question came from genuine puzzlement.

What does that mean?  

I DON’T KNOW! The words flew out of her in a sobbing scream and she covered her face with her hands. That right there was a pretty convincing indication that we’d entered a perilous new phase of this zen motherhood thing, a phase where neither one of us knew what was going on.

After that, I didn’t know why she had occasional migraines and mysterious stomach aches, days when she begged to stay home in bed or pleaded to leave school at lunch, had what seemed like twice-weekly panic attacks, called me crying from the girls’ bathroom, lied, drank, and smoked in her bedroom the night before finals as if we couldn’t smell the smoke from under her door. And so I didn’t understand why one day her hope soared and her heart healed, she got her groove, and surfaced on the other side, alive.

So yeah, I don’t know about any of that.

I’ve been talking to some friends lately, friends whose daughters are 13 or 14. They are dealing with issues of boundaries, setting limits, and having endless arguments over how much time a day is safe to let a teenager disappear into the phone. These parents are worried, naturally. They mean well, I know they do, because I always mean well too, even when it doesn’t look like that. But what I end up saying to them is something like this: It won’t work. The signal won’t reach.

Adolescence isn’t a place in-between childhood and adulthood. It’s not like a long road trip where you pass through Kansas City to get to St. Paul. Adolescence isn’t even on the map, and get this: our kids know it, so underneath the mask of anger and rebellion, they are terrified and alone.

For me, that day my daughter walked into the kitchen was like an alien landing. And for her, it was the first step onto the dark side of the moon. A world where she doesn’t know the words or customs, where she has to let go of old things and grab hold of new things, take risks, make mistakes, get angry, be lost and the whole time act like she isn’t.

Two days later, so-and-so said that he no longer wanted to date her.

I don’t have a name for the dark stretch of deep worry and difficulty, but astronomers do. They call it the new moon, so hopeful and full of promise, and entirely invisible from Earth.

Somebody else may tell you exactly what to do about it. But all I have to say is what you don’t want to hear: step back, have faith, and give it time.


  1. That last paragraph may hold a new mantra for me. One need not be a parent to understand the very simple wisdom you shared. Onward through the fog …

    Comment by Bonnie R Nygren — March 14, 2019 @ 8:11 am

  2. I liked a girl in Kindergarten. I liked this girl or that in 2nd grade. When I was in 3rd grade, I asked a girl to go to the movies with me. Her mother stated that she thought it was “so cute”. I have been married to the same woman for 58 years but I didn’t meet her until first year of college. It’s murky but important.

    Comment by Bill — March 16, 2019 @ 6:14 am

  3. Yes and the kite crashed. But you ran out and picked it up and waited for the wind and let it go and up she went. But it ain’t over, is it? In watercolor painting there is something called a hard line, and a method of softening it, so colors and subject matter blend together smoothly. Between adolescence and adulthood is a hard line. Sounds like you are using your brush well.

    Comment by Larry Misiak — March 20, 2019 @ 11:02 am

  4. Thank you. We are in the new moon phase, trying to find our way in the dark with these littles we knew so well— and now they suddenly wake from their beds taller than me and complete mysteries. Your words, as always, are a balm to my soul—and a needed buffer from my anxious desire to “help” for my boys.

    Comment by Deirdre O'Malley Keating — March 21, 2019 @ 6:49 am

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