The summer my daughter turned eight, we bought a book called Fun Things To Do In Los Angeles (or something like that). She didn’t go to day camp on Thursdays, so every Wednesday night we’d pore through the book, looking for a fun place that we could go to the next day for what we called “Mommy Camp.” That summer, we traipsed to the Griffith Observatory, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum (so. weird.), a facility in the South Bay that cares for sick and injured marine animals, the Huntington Gardens, and the Discovery Science Center in Orange County. We chatted on the long car rides, had discussions about the things we were seeing, ate picnic lunches and picked out kitschy souvenirs. Nobody ever joined us; not my son or my husband, not her friends or mine. We both wanted those days to belong to just the two of us; guaranteed QT built in to every week.
I remember how on those Mommy Camp days, other, older women would smile at us wistfully. More than once, I was advised to enjoy that time with my daughter, because it wouldn’t last forever. And while I knew that it wouldn’t, I didn’t really know that it wouldn’t, kind of like how, when you’re pregnant, you know it’s going to be hard to take care of a baby, but you don’t really know until you’re up at two in the morning with sore, swollen boobs and a screaming infant who can’t be consoled by anything except being carried while you pace, in circles, the distance from the earth to the moon and back.
Well, now I know. My daughter is almost thirteen, and the days of Mommy Camp are long gone. Looking back on it now, I think the wistfulness I saw in the faces of those other women wasn’t wistfulness at all, but rather knowing, as if they were all in on some Candid Camera episode and I was the clueless victim to whom the punchline hadn’t been revealed yet. And the punchline, in case you don’t have a teenager yet, is that when your daughter (I can’t speak for sons, because mine is only ten) becomes a teenager, nothing is fun unless her friends are there.
Oh, the friends. How is it that a bunch of thirteen year-olds who have only been alive for THIRTEEN YEARS, can suddenly be, to my daughter, more trustworthy, more knowledgeable, and more wise than me, a grown woman of forty-two? Why is it that when I tell her something she doubts me, but when her friends, who are one third my age, tell her the SAME EXACT THING, they are, of course, exactly right? And why is it that when I try to do something special for her, like buy tickets to a concert or take her to a nice dinner, or bring her to the premiere of a movie, the first question she always asks is, can I bring a friend? As if I’m some sort of skeevy, loser guy who she’s being forced to go out with, so she needs someone to be a buffer in case, God forbid, I try to talk to her.
I just find myself wondering, when did it become so uncool to be seen with me? When did I become totally embarrassing? We were at the beach last weekend and we saw an old lady wearing headphones, dancing in big wide circles on the bike path. I pointed out to my daughter that I could be like that lady. I could dance in circles around the mall, or worse, sing out loud. That would be embarrassing behavior.
To be fair, it’s not all the time. If we’re home alone, she’s happy to snuggle up with me and watch a movie, or talk to me, buffer free. It’s only when we’re out in public that she requires a wing man; to walk with her ten feet ahead of me, or sit with her in the row behind me, or eat with her at a table next to me. In public, I’m nothing more than a necessary evil; a driver-slash-chaperone who also happens to control the cash. I would blame Instagram for this – surely, it’s not cool to post pictures of yourself at a concert with your mom – but I can’t, because the truth is, I remember being exactly the same way when I was thirteen, which, I’m willing to bet, was before the people who invented Instagram were even born.
I know that she’ll grow out of it, eventually. I know that at some point in her life, I will be cool again. Okay, maybe I’ll never be cool again, but I’ll at least be fit for public viewing. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy hanging out with my son, who thinks I’m like, the funniest, coolest person ever. I’ve got three years until he hits thirteen, and you’d better believe that Mommy Camp will be back on the schedule this summer.