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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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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