This summer, I take Lovey and Django on a three-day car trip across four states. A sixteen-year-old boy, now an equal part of our eclectic family, also joins.
Somehow, it’s in this spinning of wheels and endless road that I have historically seen my kids the most.
They unwind for me.
Show me who you are, I silently invite. My heart so wants to know.
And anything is allowed.
As the adult, I know it’s my responsibility to demonstrate the difference between right and wrong. So I refrain, for once, from stories about myself at their age.
Like Django, Lovey is 14 this year.
Based on my own past, it’s a wildly unpredictable time for a girl, fraught with horrifying consequences.
Is this why I internalize her experience far more than that of the boys?
The boys, for me, are easy. But Lovey, oh Lovey, with her adorable Amelie haircut and green-bikini-clad curves, unwittingly attracting the attention of adult men. There’s nothing easy for me about Lovey.
And stupidly, this is the first summer in which I become aware of, and frightened by, the situation I’ve created with her.
Lovey is such a strong reflection of me, and I know her deep, dark waters so well by now. She talks tough when I know she is delicate. I intimately know the places she hurts, and exactly what it would take to destroy her. What an absurd statement, coming from a parental figure. But it’s true.
And it’s an enormous responsibility. Because if Lovey ever gleans anything from me other than a more absolute sense of confidence in herself, I’ve betrayed not only her, but myself.
As such, I am forced to confront the fact that I am, in moments, a far cry from anything that I am supposed to be for her.
So we’re in the car, Lovey my fixed co-pilot for the duration of the trip. I’m not sure how this impenetrable appointment happened. When I suggest alternating her with the boys, the kids uniformly deny me.
Meanwhile, on day one, I set the psycho-emotional pace for what we’re doing. Narrate our scene. As the kids DJ, with their bluesy and defiant blend of sound, I fabricate accompanying scenarios, assigning us fictional roles as bad-asses.
“This song is the soundtrack for the next next diner at which we stop,” I tell them. “And when we exit the car, spoons are dropped in terror of our approach.”
The kids laugh and take their cues as the song crescendos.
“The owner, in his dirty apron, will try to head us off at the door, and Lovey will be forced to execute her krav maga in order for us to gain entrance.”
I don’t know why it’s my tendency to portray our unlikely crew as being against the world rather than a part of it. Certainly the mood of the music guides me, and because it’s funny, but within it there also lies the implication of our forging some kind of unstoppable bond.
Lovey, in particular, thrives on this type of plotline. So that, by the second day, she begins to take the narration over from me. She’s dyslexic, remedial in school, but in actual life she’s whip smart and her potential for creativity knows no bounds.
I notice this transition happening, notice likewise my desire to shut her down. I’m competitive with Lovey, of all things. But the key lies in recognizing it. And instead shutting myself down.
Giving her free reign, which she handles like a master.
By the final day, Lovey has long since won over the boys. Whereas I’m proving a much more difficult audience. Sensing this, and exacerbated by it, we have a tense moment in which her confidence grows to such heights that she attempts a verbal overthrow.
“Are you honestly wanting to go head-to-head with me, Lovey?” I threaten. “Because I guarantee, you will lose.”
The words come out of my mouth hard, before I know I am going to say them.
What I’m really saying there is that I’m allowing her to take center-stage, because she’s a deserving apprentice, but that I can take it back any time I want it. And I’m not even sure if that’s true.
Lovey and I stare at each other, bodies rigid.
In some over-the-top choice of directing, we’re placed atop a cataclysmic precipice.
The boys, in their anxious and slightly delighted alarm over Lovey’s rebellion, slowly fade from my awareness, until it’s just Lovey and me, in absolute defiance of each other.
Then something strange happens. Some subtle change in lighting. A cool breeze. I don’t even know. Just something that suddenly allows me to to see, quite ridiculously, what I’m doing.
I’m trying to bring down the girl who is probably my most ardent supporter.
Lovey, in her intuitive wisdom, catches the shift.
“What song would be playing right now, during this scene?” she asks.
The question is magnanimous. It implies that Lovey and I are, in fact, just acting.
This isn’t who we are; this isn’t who we want to be.
The boys laugh in relief, and begin screaming out song titles that would, in fact, be perfect.
“Lovey,” I say, reaching out to her.
“Big Momma,” she whispers. It’s an old nickname she has for me.
Lovey stretches out her long, slender arms, accepts my embrace.
And we’re both shaking, though it’s barely discernible.
Lovey, that damn girl. In her I see the very challenge I presented to my own mother, and the opportunity to have something far greater than was ever allowed us. But it’s not easy. I come so dangerously close to failing.