When your sixteen year old daughter asks if you want to go for a walk with her, the answer is yes. Move things if you have to.
The Girl and I are both working from home: she’s taking her high school classes online, and I’m spending quality laptop time from home. I haven’t been to the gym since March.
(Fun fact: everyone knows that clothes can shrink in the dryer. But did you know they can shrink in the closet, too? I have proof…)
She’s a junior in high school, with everything that implies. A prom is supposedly coming up in a couple of months, and she’s having a wonderful time looking at dresses online. How, exactly, a socially distanced prom would even work is a bit beyond me, but they say it’ll happen. Like nature, teenage social life finds a way. She has boatloads of mail from colleges every day, and she assures me that what arrives by snail mail is a small fraction of what she gets in email. I like to play the “name that state” game with the snail mail, testing myself to see if I can name the state where a given school is located.
She even drives. Her driving is more like mine and less like TW’s, so she prefers my car. TW sees driving as a sort of competition, and she hates to lose. I’m a bit more aware of mortality. TG seems to have inherited my approach; TB inherited his mother’s.
TG and I both get fits of cabin fever from time to time, and I’m increasingly aware that her next stage of life is within sight. So when I get the occasional midafternoon text — “walk today?” — I do my darndest to find a way to say yes.
The walks themselves are restorative. We have a three-mile route around the neighborhood, marking milestones by the dogs who live in various houses.
For whatever reason, walks elicit conversation in the same way that long drives (what my colleague Lori Suddick calls “windshield time”) did, back when we did those. The banter starts when the walk does, and it really doesn’t let up until we’re back. It’s different every time.
Sometimes “banter” is overstating, and it’s more of a monologue by her, with me occasionally interjecting thoughtful responses like “yes” or “hmm.” She has some firmly-held views on the major political and social issues of the day — she’s well to my left — and sometimes she feels compelled to hold forth. When she does, I restrict myself to minor factual additions or corrections. She also likes to test out various observations on patriarchy and sexism; I have to admit, she has a keen eye. She’s light-years ahead of where I was at her age. And it’s fun to watch the combination of scary-smart social theorizing with the historical frame of reference that comes from having been born in 2004.
It isn’t always politics, though. The most recent one involved music, which allowed for more back-and-forth. She loves Hozier, and does some bracingly compelling analyses of his lyrics. She even has some astute observations about Taylor Swift. In return, she lets me occasionally wax rhapsodic about The Replacements. I told her that if you wanted a visual representation of The Replacements, imagine a pickup truck with too much stuff piled too high in the back, only partially held down by bungee cords. The truck is taking a corner much too fast and leaning, the wheels are squealing, and some odds and ends are falling off as it turns. She smirked. She told me once that when she heard them, she thought they sounded like “a Dad band.” Fair enough.
Hey, my Dad played Anne Murray. (“Spread your tiny wings and fly away…”) The Replacements are a major step forward.
But the conversations are only partly about the content. They’re more about listening and affirming. They’re about getting up from the desk, putting aside the crisis of the day, and letting my teenage daughter know that I enjoy hearing her theories on pretty much anything.
Because I do.