My Daughter Turns 15 Today and I Am Still Completely Clueless

What’s the key to a conventional mom raising an eclectic teenager? Acceptance.

My oldest baby turned 15 today.

Emily was due in mid-September, which I thought was a great plan. I was excited to have a little Virgo like myself – an obedient people-pleaser, striving to get straight A’s, correct everyone’s typos, and yet generally appear modest.

Instead, my water broke at week 33.           

Emily’s premature arrival was a clear indication of the Leo she was destined to become – stubborn, independent, and outside-the-box (or in this case, outside-the-womb).

She was early and I was unprepared … in other words, completely clueless. If I wanted to mold this young being properly, I was going to need as much information as possible.

I poured through Dr. Sears, followed every week of What to Expect and Ages and Stages, practiced the exercises in building my baby’s self-esteem, raising my child in a moral world, and taming my toddler. I block-booked my little darling in a variety of parks & rec classes, Gymboree, dance, arts & crafts, and sports. I joined a mommies group that met every Wednesday and listened intently to the advice of other moms.

Still, I felt completely clueless.

When the other kids played together, Emily wandered off on her own, exploring someplace not so kid-friendly. The other toddlers chatted with their Barbies and stuffed animals, while Emily spent the afternoon playing in a drawer full of kitchen towels. She transformed each towel into a superhero cape, the fabric over a magic trick, a hijab, or a cast for her pretend broken leg.

We went to the movies one Christmas week when she was four years old. The other kids brought their favorite new toys to the theatre to hold during the movie. Emily brought an empty box covered with … you guessed it – a kitchen towel. She called her box “Cogsworth.” Other parents must have looked at her box and figured we were dirt poor.

Emily just gave Cogsworth a hug.

Again, I felt completely clueless.

In elementary school, when other children were writing their biographical book reports on Anne Frank and Babe Ruth, Emily gave a presentation on Sabina Spielrein, one of the first female psychoanalysts.

She tried to shake up her middle school dress code by alternately wearing a leather motorcycle jacket, Army camouflage, and a bloody Sweeney Todd apron to school. When Emily was summoned to the dean’s office, he asked her, “Why are you wearing a vampire cape?”

Emily answered, “It protects me from the elements.”

When she started high school last year, Emily was at the height of her fashion quest. She wore heels, vintage 1950’s form-fitting dresses and her long red hair in a bun. This look, coupled with her 5’7” stature and Marilyn Monroe-like curves, had many students mistaking her for a teacher rather than a freshman.

Emily’s 15 years have brought me hundreds of clueless moments: when she was diagnosed with type-1 (insulin dependent) diabetes on her 3rd birthday; at 12 years, when she announced she was a vegetarian (and hasn’t had a bite of meat since); and last year when she told me that she likes boys and girls  – and yes … in that way.

While other kids her age are texting and hovering over Facebook, Emily is busy reading Allen Ginsberg, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sherlock Holmes. She turned me on to My Chemical Romance and Eddie Izzard, and her musical tastes run the gamut from The Beatles to Edith Piaf to Black Sabbath. Emily uploads her eclectic drawings to DeviantArt and creates hundreds of pages of elaborate costume designs. She’s an avid fan of Watchmen, Young Avengers and Legion of Superheroes comics, collects Star Wars and Star Trek figurines, and writes deep, disturbing essays about the morality of man.

I am a conventional gal. Emily is not.

I have had many more clueless moments, and I still have them often. The difference between 15 years ago and today is I accept that I’m a clueless mom. But instead of immediately running to a book or Googling some expert (or more often than not, just some pseudo-expert who managed to get a book deal), I try to look to my 15-year old daughter for the answers.

Or at least some clues.

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Michelle July 30, 2011 at 09:21 PM
That is beautiful, written by a beautiful mom about her beautiful daughter. I doubt you were ever so clueless. I'm glad to have seen emily grow up through the years I've known you. As a virgo myself, after reading your blog, I wouldn't mind having a brilliant little leo of my own one day.
Landry malick July 30, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Suzanne Lewis July 30, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Wow! I love Emily even more now!! Cathy, you are a gifted writer and made me laugh at some of the same milestones I went through with my now grown daughter Sidnee.
Tami Miller July 31, 2011 at 04:48 AM
As a mom, we look to "experts" about our child, about ourseleves, about the world. Yet, as you now know... we are the best experts for our lives and our children.
Denise Pickering July 31, 2011 at 04:46 PM
I'm always ready to listen to your advice, Cathy! Happy Birthday to your beautiful, one of a kind Emily!
Margie McKinnon August 01, 2011 at 01:20 AM
As the mother of the aforementioned clueless person I can say, my daughter is a brilliant writer, her words have wings, my granddaughter is an absorbing, one of a kind 15 year old who manages to combine morose with an ebullient charm and come off seeming mysterious, a Darth Vader who is going to instantly turn into Harry Potter and save the world. When my kids started into their teens I let them raise themselves which means I was not much of a discipliniarian (ask them, they'll have a different story) and more often than not laughed my head off when they did something they thought they were going to get in trouble for. Ah.........well...we look back and reinvent history
leslie clay August 01, 2011 at 07:33 AM
I love your articles, but this is my favorite. Emily has grown and is still growing into an beautiful young lady!
Tom Rosholt August 01, 2011 at 04:14 PM
When Cathy and I got married, Emily was 9 years old. Mind you, I grew up as an only child, so becoming an instant parent to two girls was a little daunting. I knew nothing about Barbie’s and Polly Pockets. I grew up playing with army men and reacting great WWII battles. I don’t know if the last six years have been so much about me learning how to be a parent as it has been moments of personal self discovery. A good example, I love music and passionate about it. I love a wide variety of music. Growing up, I thought there is no way any of my feature kids could listen to music that I would disagree with. Emily with here amazing voice proved this self perception to be wrong. It turns out I can’t stand musicals. For the first three or four years, all Emily sang (at the top of her lungs) were musicals. Yikes! I take credit for the Black Sabbath influence. Another example is she would use a spoon for eating when a fork would be the proper utensil. Who knew table manners were a pet peeve of mine. I have led a strange life. It has never been conventional. Not by any intent on my part, but has just unfolded that way. So having an unconventional teenager is no big deal to me. Emily will never tell you straight out what is on her mind, especially personal stuff. But there are moments where I get a little insight. I don’t what to say what the moments are, because Emily will probably change them like any normal teenager would and I will be at a loss again. Ha ha.
LA Momma August 01, 2011 at 05:08 PM
I love how Emily felt safe enough with you to tell you about her sexual orientation (bi or pansexual?) .... lucky girl !
Paige Gage August 02, 2011 at 07:40 PM
Yay, Emily! I love you! Happy Birthday! Mrs. Gage PS. Cathy you did good!!! XO Paige
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:41 PM
My 4-year old son Jake came a bit early as well. He was supposed to be a Libra & he ended up a Virgo. Unfortunately, his organization skills have not yet materialized. As they say in preschool "You get what you get and you don't get upset." My little (or now big) Leo turned out to be a wonderful surprise.
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Thanks for commenting, Landry!
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:42 PM
I'm sure I'll be picking your brain about teen upbringing. It's a scary prospect.
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:43 PM
I still look at the experts. I just don't quote them so often, or always take their advice.
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:45 PM
Thanks, Denise. For all the readers out there, Denise is one of the original mommies from the Wednesday mommies group. We all met in a prenatal exercise class, and I can't believe our little babies are now getting learners permits to drive.
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:47 PM
It made us all quite independent & self-sufficient. Can you imagine any of your kids coming home to have you do their laundry?
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:50 PM
I'm biased, but I could definitely spend all day not only marveling at her beauty, but being both baffled and enlightened by her conversation.
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:54 PM
I forgot about her horrible table manners when we first got married. Even though I love her free spirit, I'm glad we squashed Emily's habit of grabbing the wrong utensils like a cave man.
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:57 PM
I hadn't heard of the term pansexual before, but I completely get it. It makes sense, especially for bisexuals who are monogamous in each relationship.
Cathy Flynn August 02, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Thanks Paige. I owe a lot of it to some very good teachers.
Bernadette August 07, 2011 at 04:20 AM
I loved this! Heartfelt and honest. Its a beautiful thing to have children that expand our very often set adult ways and ideas. Urging us into the unknown, offering up new perspectives. Thanks Cathy!
Cathy Flynn August 07, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Clueless again. According to my wise daughter and the urban dictionary, pansexuals are "open to members of all sexual orientations or gender identities including straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual, or transvestite." You learn something new every day. Or at least I do.
Cathy Flynn August 07, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Thanks, Bernadette. I definitely need a little urging into the unknown. It's often a scary place to go, & it helps to have a hand to hold during the adventure.
Robin August 07, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Lovely piece, Cathy. Thank you for sharing your insights on your daughter. Parenthood teaches us that we really know nothing. Even after having one child (and you think you may have some of it down) another one comes along and teaches you that once again, you knew nothing. I think the key is to fake it really really well. My oldest daughter leaves for college in three weeks and I catch myself staring at her and wondering "when did this all happen?"
Cathy Flynn August 09, 2011 at 06:06 AM
You're absolutely right about thinking you know something with the first child, only to realize that what you learned doesn't work with the next one. Like you, Robin, I do a lot of acting "as if," especially when my mood needs to be better than it really is. Best of luck with your daughter leaving for college. I'm sure I can learn a lot from you and your experiences to come.
COURTNEY RUNDELL September 28, 2011 at 07:42 PM
OMG! I FINALLY READ THIS POST! Wow, 33 weeks early?!? I would've flipped out! Mr. Morgan came ON HIS DUE DATE. If I wouldn't have labored for 36 grueling hours, he could've been a Leo. I thought he was a Leo, ever since his 20 week ultrasound picture where he's flipping us off, but just like a Virgo, he came on his due date - much to the chagrin of my vagina. Tee hee. I love this post. I love Emily. I love every dimension of that child - she is a snowflake of the most unique variety and I totally relate! Xoxo, Court
Momlee November 17, 2011 at 08:54 PM
It appears you're a single mom that tried your best and lost control in the early years. Not in a bad way. Having a daughter myself I totally understand your feelings. I loved pretty clothing but my daughter would only wear pants and tops. She was into sports. Played soft ball and loved basketball. As an adult today we have nothing in common. Heaven knows I've tried. I could go on but know how you must be feeling. The important thing you have to understand Emily must have ground rules. You must be firm or you will find she will be the parent and you the child. You wouldn't have written your feelings if you felt secure with yourself. Emily has tested you from day one. She's no longer a child. I can't tell you what to do going forward but you have to believe in yourself. If you are secure and believe in yourself and know you did everything in your power to be a good mother, Emily will be fine. You can't be overly protective. It will make you crazy. As parents we try but it's tough. Sorry to say that I've had times I didn't speak to my daughter for a year or so. I try but she's a stranger. Mostly we have lunch and lots of small talk. I live with that and understand it's all I will have. I truly hope your situation will be more productive. The mommy and me fairytail is a dream. I also have a son. He's my rock and we have a wonderful relationship. It's everything and more than I could expect.


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