Yesterday afternoon, my daughter had three friends over after school. My husband and I were both working in our third-floor offices, and we had painters in the dining room. So, the four young teens were relegated to my daughter's bedroom armed with popcorn, sodas and a complete collection of electronica.
Apparently, the "hanging out" (we graduated from "playdates" years ago) was a success.
They were fairly quiet and the room was only slightly trashed. When the last guest was picked up, it was already dinner time. So, we decided to go to a funky Mexican restaurant in the next town over.
It had been a hectic, stressful week. Actually, it had been a hectic, stressful week on the tail end of a hectic, stressful month. Thanksgiving, travel, new clients, holiday shopping, and a dining room renovation. I for one was looking for a nice meal avec la famille.
We settled into our seats and a friendly young waiter (who looked a lot like Justin Timberlake — bonus!) took our drink order. I could feel myself start to relax.
"So, how did it go?" I cheerfully asked my daughter. "What did you guys do?"
"Like what?" I asked.
She shrugged, and repeated, "Stuff." This was said in that tone of voice which means "Are you deaf, Mom?" Or, alternately, "Get off my case."
My husband added his two cents to this now fascinating conversation. "What kind of stuff?"
She rolled her eyes, "You know, stuff."
By now, I started to laugh. This did not help the situation.
"Why do you always have to know every little detail of my life?" she demanded.
"Detail? You haven't told me anything," I insisted. "I'm just trying to have a nice family meal. This is what civilized people do. They have cordial conversations over dinner."
I didn't actually hear her snort, but that doesn't mean she didn't.
At this point, I realized that our nice family meal was at a crossroads. The parents could continue to badger the child, interrogating, lecturing, accusing, eventually threatening. Or, we could move on. Maybe it was my pinot grigio. Maybe I was just too exhausted to take anything but the path of least resistance. At any rate, I am proud to report that we moved on. (This may seem like the logical choice, but it isn't always easy to be logical when you're tired and stressed out and you're dealing with your average petulant fourteen-year old.)
Luckily, there was plenty to discuss with my husband. We are both working on fairly big projects right now. We've received Christmas cards from several friends and family members, some with those silly newsletters included. We have a lot going on, as always this time of year, so there were schedules to compare and logistics to work out. Who could run which errand? In what order should we attend dueling parties? When would we buy our trees?
Meanwhile, my daughter sipped her Coke and sulked.
Soon enough, the chips and salsa arrived, followed shortly thereafter by our burritos, and there was less pressure to converse. Dinner was delicious and convenient and reasonable. So what if only two of us were talking?
Over the years, I've learned many things from my daughter. I now know that the word "Stuff" has more than one meaning. "Stuff" can, of course, mean "stuff." As in "What's this mess on the floor of your closet?" "Stuff."
Apparently, it can also mean, "I'd rather not talk right now." Okay, that's fine.
I'll be here if you change your mind.