by Hannah Ford

How to Raise Her

When she eats her strawberry Pop-Tarts and scrambled eggs on her first day of high school, your daughter will look like you did at her age: untamable hair, nearly sweating out naïve excitement and nervousness. She’ll be prettier and more intelligent, though.

Do not cry when you drop her off at the brick building that will shape her for the next four years. Don’t envy the walls that will see more of her than you will. And don’t ask her to pose for a picture. Make a mental recording of her “You too, Mom” when you tell her you love her.

Take her side when her father questions her modified wardrobe choices. Her short shorts will remind you of Jersey Shore, too, but know that you have to pick your battles. Stay her friend for as long as possible. Explain to your husband that styles are changing.  Take her shopping at Kohl’s, where shorts are slightly longer. When she complains that Kohl’s is for old ladies, claim that you just have to use up your coupons.

While you’re at the bank, you may see a flyer from Patty’s Pottery Place advertising classes for middle-aged women. You have a high schooler. You’re middle-aged. You might take a phone number tag without really knowing why.

Watch her interact with her friends when you drop snickerdoodles off at her Homecoming pep rally. Don’t be alarmed if you cannot keep up with the dialogue speed that rivals infomercial health disclaimers.  Remind yourself that teens have to find who they are for themselves when you note that her sentences lack substance. As long as she continues to stay up late with a flashlight and a worn Charlotte Bronte paperback, know that she is still the bright girl you taught to read, curled up on her bedspread, sounding out Dr. Seuss and Franklin the Turtle.

Call Patty’s Pottery Place.  Your daughter is a young adult and needs less of your taxi service now that she has friends with cars.  And she’s long outgrown your sandwich lunches with the notes scrawled on the napkins. Try this new thing.  You liked art before becoming a parent and having your world suddenly orbit around a tiny genetic combination of you and your husband.

Her grades may slip more than you would like.  It is your job to monitor this.

Your older sister’s unsolicited advice will be practical, as usual: “You have to teach her responsibility now, before it’s too late and her GPA hurts her college applications.  If I hadn’t pushed Jack, who knows if he would have made it into Princeton?” Jack barely tolerates you, you think but don’t say.

Try to strike a balance between insisting on schoolwork and on being her friend.  You will suspect that her straight A’s set her apart in middle school and that she’s not eager to hold on to this distinction.

While at Target, you might find yourself filling your cart with a whole slew of movies in which the guy falls in love with the girl for what’s in her head, not just her face.  Beauty and the Beast, Juno, and You’ve Got Mail are a good place to start.

On second thought, drop Juno.

Hear your husband mention her midterm grades to her; hear him say, “Guys like girls with substance.” Know that nothing he says will contradict the visible proof that Macy, Tracey, Stacey and Lacey may not have Ivy League futures, but they do have boyfriends. But kiss him on the cheek and thank him for trying.

Let her wear makeup if she promises to keep her grades above a B average, even though you know this is settling.

At your first pottery class, you might be nervous. It might feel like your first day of high school. Don’t be timid. Sit next to the woman who makes sharp eye contact with you and gestures to the stool next to her with her ring-laden hand.

“I’m Renetta,” she will articulate after you introduce yourself.

You will notice her eccentric bangles and that she smells vaguely of cinnamon. By the time you receive your lump of clay, which Patty of the Pottery Place says will soon “be transformed by your passions into a work of functional art,” Renetta will have launched into her life story.

“I left my husband when I was 46.” She’ll briskly pump her wheel’s foot pedal. “He did nothing but go to work and come home and plop onto the sofa in front of that damned ESPN. He didn’t even try in the sack. You still married?” Nod. “How’s the sex?”

As you watch your daughter navigate social hierarchies and cliques, you will remember what you were like in high school. Remember how your wish to be on top led you to house parties and to the discovery of how brave alcohol made you. Remember the keggers, remember how things progressed as you went off to college. The nights spent in frat house bedrooms, the hazy stupor of classes attended while high, and those two terrifying nights on acid.

Be your daughter’s friend so that she doesn’t feel so lonely that she sneaks out on weekends. Be the kind of parent who will actually notice if she sneaks out.

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself feeling like you did in high school and college, lurking at the edges of the popular crowd. A smile of acceptance from the leader made your day then; a smile from your daughter will make your day now.

You will watch your daughter go on her first date.  You will hate the boy before you lay eyes on him, but don’t let her suspect this, because you know that she has read Romeo and Juliet and you remember how valued Mrs. Capulet’s opinion is. (It’s not.)

“He’s sweet, and I felt badly saying no,” she’ll say of him. You’ll wonder if she’s being truthful, or if you should see him as a threat to the world you are accustomed to. When she asks you for your opinion on her outfit, you will remember the time that she dressed herself for her 5th birthday party and ended up in a tutu and your husband’s church-league baseball jersey. She will look just as old to you. Remind yourself that you dated in high school; remind yourself that this is a coming-of-age milestone, one to be celebrated, not one to stop at all costs. Besides, she only said yes to a date because he was sweet.

When the scared-shitless boy arrives in his mother’s Toyota, thank your lucky stars. Boys who drive their mother’s Toyota and have paper doll manners and whose hands are slippery as theater butter will not try anything past a good-night kiss.

Silence your husband’s grumble that the boy was as dry as a popcorn fart. Popcorn boys are a mother’s favorite.

“Dating? Have you had the talk?” Renetta had two daughters of her own. “Better safe than sorry,” she’ll advise while a soup bowl emerges between her palms. “You’d rather blush once when you ask her whether she needs to be on the pill than blush every time you go in public with your pregnant teen.”

You’ll look down at the lumpy mug you’ve been working on. Your husband doesn’t really drink coffee, but it might be too lumpy for your daughter. Maybe you’ll give it to your sister.

Popcorn boy might call again, but she’ll tell him that she only sees him a friend. But once she has gone on the landmark first date, know that others will follow. Rusty Truck boys with Confederate flag bumper stickers are not necessarily a mother’s favorite. You might wonder how a boy who grew up in northern Ohio could possibly have a twang in his voice. Accept his southern manners nonetheless. Thank him when he inclines his head and offers that “y’all have a mighty pretty place, ma’am, sir.”

Wait up patiently. Rusty Truck boys are not as punctual as Popcorn boys. Your husband will tell you to go to sleep. Tell him that you just remembered you are on snack detail for tomorrow’s Bible study. Bake cranberry scones.

Thirty-two minutes late only calls for mild admonition if you want to remain her friend.

Try not to think about the 12 of those minutes that were spent in the truck pulled just into the mouth of the driveway.

Agree with her that he’s just the sweetest, cutest, most down-to-earth guy, even as the warning bells go off that she is actually interested in this boy. Be grateful that she talks to you like you’re just another girlfriend. Stay her friend as long as possible.

Don’t question her sudden interest in flannel and tight jeans. Styles change. Your daughter is not one to alter her wardrobe for a boy. She’s always been sure of herself.

When all of your radio stations are set to country music, don’t read too far into the repeated themes of young love and lost virginity.

“I dated a country boy once.” Renetta has moved on to vases, but your attempts at mugs are still lumpy. “He was dumber than his beagle. Have you had the talk yet? Not the middle-school health class version, no. The real one. Condoms, birth control.”

You’ll probably tell Renetta that there’s nothing to worry about, not with your daughter. She’s your friend, and she’d tell you.

After she’s been to four movies and one dinner with Rusty Truck boy, overhear your husband

Say something about of boundaries. Try not to sigh with relief when she bursts “Oh, my God, Dad, we’re not having sex!”

Bake those peanut butter cookies that you used to make at least once a month when you were first married. You read a Women’s Day article that said positive affirmation is more effective than nagging, so when you set the cookies next to his Lay-Z Boy, thank your husband for asking your daughter what you were afraid to ask.

Rusty Truck’s heart is a troubadour heart. He loved her, but <insert George Strait lyrics here>.

She won’t sleep, then she’ll sleep all the time, then she’ll eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy, then she won’t touch dinner for a week. She will blast Taylor Swift, and you will find it ironic that country music is helping her to cope.

“She’ll bounce back. Teens are made of rubber,” Renetta will assert when you tell her about the breakup.

She will. Your daughter will bounce back from this one.

At the family Christmas party your sister tells everyone within earshot of Jack’s success at Princeton. You just might wonder smugly to yourself why he couldn’t make the time to come home for Christmas. Give your sister her mug and explain that the dissymmetry is abstract functional art.

Treasure your daughter’s participation in Christmas traditions. You have no idea how many years you have left of this.

Something will change during her second semester of high school. Maybe it will have been the designer clothing that you’re still paying off. Maybe her Confederate-flag-sticker ex put her on the map in some way. Maybe those few pounds dropped after a violent bought of food poisoning will make her designer jeggings fit just the right way.

Whatever it is, in January, Trent McGuire will ask her to see a movie, and by February, she will be the official girlfriend of the senior starting guard of the Viking basketball team. He will be tall, confident, and smell of David Beckham. His hair will be carefully tousled just like that vampire Edward in those teen novels.

Trent will drape his lanky arm across your daughter’s shoulders when she introduces him to you, and she will gaze up at him through her L’Oreal lashes as though he’d hung the moon. Or landed on it, at the very least.

“Bad news,” Renetta will declare and poke her clay. “Athletes are bad news. Older boyfriends are bad news. They won’t take no for an answer. But if you tell her not to date him, you can be certain she’ll keep on dating him. Have you put her on the pill?  Tell her it’s good for her skin.”

You’ll see Trent with his cronies while you are pumping gas at the local Shell station. Hands freezing in the biting cold, you’ll hear him chuck racial slurs at a homeless man.

You and your husband will go to a basketball game to support the boyfriend. Your daughter will wear a Viking Pride tee with Trent McGuire’s jersey number in glitter.

It might be your imagination, but maybe you’ll note at least three other long-lashed student section members cheering more loudly every time he scores.

After a particularly impressive three-pointer, he’ll pound his chest and then point at your daughter. You’ll want to smile as her friends – they all will look the same, and you’ll have given up on knowing each of their names – squeal and poke her for her good fortune, but you’ll be wondering if he plans to score off the court, too. You’ll know the answer.

By the second month of their relationship, she will be spending all of her free time with him. Curfew will be all but ignored. She’ll roll her eyes when you attempt to enforce.  When you fight (which you will), she’ll call you a tyrannical bitch and text Trent McGuire. He’ll pick her up three minutes later in his Cadillac, and you’ll hear her finally return at 3 a.m.  Staying her friend and parenting will not coincide. You will hate to admit this.

“She’ll come around,” your husband will say. “She’s a good kid.”

What if she is just a kid? you might wonder cynically, and then realize that you spoke aloud. He’ll grab your wrist and pull you in close. “We all went through one stage or another. We raised her right. She knows she has a home when she wants it.”

You’ll know he’s right. He knows when to push and when to sit back. He taught your daughter to ride a bike, and when you tensed because he let her go too soon, he blinked calmly.

If we never let her go, she’ll never really learn, he told you then. You glared at him moments later as you stuck a Hello Kitty Band-aid on her scraped knee, but he smiled at you when she made her first successful lap of your suburban block.

“High school relationships are like drinking a bottle of wine in one night,” Renetta will offer. “Taste sweet at first, fun for a while, hurt like hell after, but you sure learn your lesson.” She’ll make sharp eye contact with you over her glaze choices. “If you had anything to do with raising her, she’ll come around.  It just might take some waiting.”

If Trent McGuire comes over for chili and apple pie, per your insistence, don’t bring up the curfew violations or the fights that you know he’s been told a skewed version of.  Maybe if he learns to respect you, or even like you, he’ll get her home earlier.

As you smile and perform hostess duties, your husband will try to talk sports with him. But do not be surprised if Trent makes no effort to impress you or to take his hand off of your little girl’s upper thigh. He’s a smart one. He knows that your daughter worships his sweaty varsity basketball jersey. He knows that you hold no power. Why would he try to be on your good side when your fights with his girlfriend reward him with more emotionally-distraught evenings with her?

So you will act like the fights never happened. You’ll take your daughter shopping and talk nail polish and try to be her friend again. Or at least her acquaintance.

You’ll know she’s no longer a virgin when she stops making eye contact with you. You’ll know that everyone else knows it when you see Trent’s buddies nudging him and raising their eyebrows as your daughter walks by in jeans so tight they look painted on.

“Sometimes parenting is like these pots. Work all day on them, but at the end of it it’s the fire that decides how they turn out in the end. And you can’t control the flame, so stop sweating over it.” Renetta will offer another simile. Take it or leave it.

You might go to the movies to see that disgustingly macho action flick that your husband has been drooling over. Marriage requires compromise.

During the seventh fistfight of the film, you’ll probably excuse yourself to get more popcorn. And while in line, you might see a familiar lanky arm draped across the shoulders of some straight-haired girl wearing your rival school’s colors. You will feel like you have been punched in the uterus. If he slides his filthy hand into the back pocket of her jeans, you will feel like punching him in his private parts. If he grabs her face and all but sticks his tongue down her throat, you might rush into the women’s restroom and get sick.

Back in the theater, your husband will ask where the popcorn is and return his eyes to the screen before you muster an excuse. He’ll watch another gunfight as you fidget in flushed indignation.

You will not know how to tell her. You will not know if to tell her.

She will shoot the messenger, because the offender in question hung the moon and calls her his one-and-only baby doll. Even if she listens to you, she will believe his blue eyes when they insist that she’s the only one, that there’s no way that was him, that he was practicing his jump shot that night. And then she will never let you back in again.

So maybe you won’t tell her. You might hate yourself for this. You might not tell Renetta about this, even, because you know what she’d say.

But for your daughter to really be over the boyfriend, anyway, she’ll have to do it on her own, right?

And you’d really love to stay her friend.

– – – – –

hannah fordHannah Ford grew up in Coldwater, Michigan, surrounded by cornfields and books. She graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a degree in English Creative Writing and a minor in Communication. She is currently receiving responses from graduate schools and fretting over the decision; by April, she will decide where to pursue her MFA in Fiction.
For the past three months, Hannah has been living and teaching at an environmental education program in Charleston, South Carolina. She likes hiking, playing the ukulele and piano, all desserts, making lists, and oxford commas.

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