Since my daughter could talk, no topic of conversation has been off limits. We talk about anything and everything. And we talk a lot. Topics include school, friends, boys, family, the future, current events, social issues, politics, religion, movies, books, art, writers, influential people. Everything. Anything.
While some of my friends have difficulty getting words out of their teenagers, I have difficulty getting mine to stop talking. Dinnertime can last hours.
I don't mind.
Not in the least.
I'm lucky, I know. I don't pretend to believe she tells me everything she thinks and does (I probably don't want to hear it all), but I get so much.
So very much.
I know things a lot of moms probably don't know. I guard this information; I keep it close to the vest because keeping her confidence is one of the most important things I think I can do as a mother. I want her to come to me. I want her to talk to me. And I know she'll stop if she can't trust me or if she thinks I'll react badly.
I never had that sort of relationship with my parents. I mean, my dad and I could talk for days, sure, but our conversations were about issues or events; they were not about feelings or personal struggles; they most certainly were not about uncomfortable topics (you know the ones). I never had those conversations with my mom either.
I still don't.
I vowed I would have a different relationship with my child. And I do. And I'm grateful.
Early on, I made sure she understood that the way I think, my opinions, and how I view the world are all about me and my experiences. I made sure she understood that the way she thinks, her opinions, and how she views the world have to be about her and her experiences. I've always told her that if she thinks like me, that's great... and if she doesn't think like me, that's great, too. As long as she's traveling her own path, as long as she reaches her conclusions through research and thoughtful contemplation, I'll be happy.
OK, maybe not happy. I mean, my dad surely wasn't happy when I disagreed with him about pretty much everything. I think he would have rather had a child who thought the way he did (and he did get two of them), but I think he was secretly quite pleased that I sorted things out for myself.
I have worked hard to make sure that when we discuss issues of the day, she gets to hear, to the best of my ability, all sides - my view as well as other views, the merits and negatives of all perspectives, the reasons I think the way I do and the reasons others think the way do. Sometimes it's not easy, but I think it's always important.
For a long time, when we discussed various issues, I heard my voice coming back at me. I think that's normal. When kids are forming opinions, they very often mirror their parents' views at first.
But recently, my voice has been absent. In its place I've heard another voice.
And it's clear. It's articulate. It's coming from a smart, witty, wise person - from a woman, not a child, and most certainly not from an entitled, apathetic teenager - the teenagers other people talk so much about... the teenagers I don't know.
Last night, at dinner, we had a conversation about the upcoming election, as we have been wont to do for the past several months. She has been incredibly interested in this campaign, following the candidates, watching the debates, reading, asking questions...
I find this really cool, especially given the fact that she can't even vote yet.
She talked about what impresses her, worries her, angers her, perplexes her. She said she had taken a long online test, designed to determine which candidate she thinks most like. Some of the results surprised her a bit at first. She admitted that there were some questions she couldn't answer intelligently, because she didn't know enough about a few of the issues.
"I have to learn more," she said.
I have to learn more.
That statement made this mama so proud.
She said she doesn't understand how people can say they're not interested in politics, because politics aren't just about who wants to get elected to what office... they're about life and how ours will be impacted by the governments we allow.
As I say, the words coming from her mouth lately have not been mine. I know this because they are words I haven't even thought of. They come forth unrehearsed and off the cuff. They show critical thinking and a person with an open, curious, thirsty mind, unwilling to simply accept the status quo.
Two years ago, a student teacher wrote Ryan a letter; in it, she said that Ryan has a special something - a spark - and when they encounter it, teachers count themselves lucky.
I've always seen that spark.
And now I'm hearing it.
I look forward to the flame...