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Play a Dirge and Light the Cake
It's a funeral for her childhood
Filha turned 13 a couple of Fridays ago. It’s a milestone she’s been dreading for years because she strongly believes (and I quote): “Teenagers are stupid.”
Last year on her 12th birthday, she announced that she didn’t want a party for her 13th. “I want a funeral. A funeral for my childhood,” she said. “Everyone has to wear black and play sad songs and go into mourning.”
Look, you can’t really say that kind of thing to your formerly goth mom and expect her not to deliver!
Marido and I took her quite literally. I found the most adorable little carryon casket (pictured above) at a UK store whose tagline is, “In Goth We Trust.” Perfection.
We tucked all of her gifts (mostly black, except for the books — which were wrapped in black and grey paper covered in dancing skeletons) inside the casket, packed it in the car with our overnight bags, and drove up north to Aveiro for a long weekend of waterfall hiking, gondola riding, book reading, and, of course childhood mourning.
It’s been a busy summer full of traveling and hosting visitors and big home projects like building a swimming pool. So all three of us (four, if you count the parrot) were more than ready for some forced relaxation before the fall and the school year fell upon us.
We all packed multiple books and spent long glorious hours curled on couches and beds and blankets reading our hearts out while the rain drummed down. (In a case of perfect timing, a thunderstorm rolled in on the morning of Filha’s birthday, just as I presented her with cake and casket and Marido spooled up a dirge on his playlist.)
The change of scenery was nice, and though we did spend one day exploring the town of Aveiro, the cozy cottage we stayed in was located out in the country near Oliveira de Azeméis.
Filha picked the locale for this particular getaway. She loves to stay in cozy places that have great light and comfy reading nooks. She once crashed a solo writing retreat I took myself on in Point Reyes, back in California, and that cabin is still the bar by which she measures all other Airbnb stays. This one, she said, was almost as good as that Point Reyes stay — all we were missing was a hot tub.
As for the teenager part of this whole equation, turning that particular corner wasn’t quite as awful as she feared, once Filha finally got there.
For her, the term “teenager” calls up the image of lip-gloss-smeared, crop-top-wearing, TikTok-following, hair-tossing, gum-cracking, boy-obsessed mutants who are overly concerned about grasping the next rung on the popularity ladder, no matter the caution or cost.
Filha is adamantly none of those things. As puberty began to make itself known these last couple of years, she firmly rejected all forms of maturation. She abhors the socially expected veneers that many girls her age (and younger) outfit themselves with so they can fit in and/or get noticed. She truly cannot be bothered to care about what she looks like or what she’s wearing or what other people think about any of it.
This summer she spent hours in the back yard constructing mud piles and imagining storylines for a host of animal toys she’s been collecting since her Mimi bought her a deer at Farm & Fleet when she was 9 months old.
Once, a friend rejected Filha’s suggestion of a “pretend like we’re wolves” role play because, “We’re too old for that now!”
Filha was flabbergasted. “Too old? Never!” she said.
She clings white-knuckled to the last vestiges of her girlhood and makes a sour face every time strangers comment on her looks or her height.
“OMG she’s very tallllll!” they’ll gasp, and her shoulders cringe inward.
“And so beautiful,” they’ll trill out, oblivious to her discomfort.
“Just like a model!” they coo as she ducks her head.
“I wish prettiness wasn’t a thing people get excited about,” she’ll say and then list all the attributes she values more than her coveted California girl features (beach waves, ocean eyes). She’s not afraid of getting dirty or climbing walls. She’s got a sharp wit and an even sharper eye. She remembers everything. She never meets an animal she doesn’t love. She reads all the time. She’s got a gift for drawing and storytelling. She’s a fierce friend. She’s funny and thoughtful and curious and kind. She has a finely-honed sense of justice. She’s brave and she’s loyal and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows more about dragons or wolves. She’s had a rock solid sense of self since she was small. She doesn’t give a shit what’s trending — she likes what she likes, and for that she won’t apologize.
She has always been very much herself. So that’s what I told her, on the eve of her first teen birthday: “You don’t have to be a teenager,” I said, “You can just be yourself.”
There was a time, when I was pregnant or when she was tiny and all I knew of teenage girls was my own half-remembered experience. At that point in motherhood, I was afraid of the teenage years mostly because all the loud voices say you should be afraid. “Hell is a teenage girl” says a teenage girl in the opening line of the cult classic Jennifer’s Body.
I swallowed the stereotypes: Teenage girls were vapid and mean and selfish and irresponsible and all-around awful. Eyes would roll. Doors would slam. There would be screeching and name calling and sneaking out of midnight windows to meet up with boys. I was dreading it.
But the longer I was Filha’s mother, the more I came to see that kids — of any age — are not a monolith. You can’t lump them together and smack on one-label-fits-all. Especially when your kid resolutely refuses to perch in any kind of pigeonhole.
As we embark now on this teenaged adventure, I find myself looking forward to the next seven years. I mean, yes, I absolutely miss the round-cheeked smushmallow of a little one who would run artlessly into my arms. But I am daily delighted by this current version of my daughter, long-limbed and earnest, who never runs out of wonder.
As she drinks the dregs of her childhood, I hold close the girl she was and harbor
bright hopes for the woman she will someday be. Mostly though, I stand in awe of the person she is, today, right now — all the joy and anguish of it.
Whenever I count my gratitudes, I always count her first.
Copyright © 2023 LaDonna Witmer
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