2 Sep

“Next year there is going to be lots of pressure.”

My daughter sits on my bed as she says this, her long hair damp from the evening shower she just took.  She’s talking about the upcoming academic year.  Her profile is blurry because I don’t have my glasses on.  I put down the book I’m reading – Lit by Mary Karr, an engrossing memoir about overcoming alcoholism and finding God – and squint at her.  I’m too tired to get my glasses on my bedside table so I continue to look at her features made fuzzy by extreme myopia.

There is silence as my mind ineptly casts about what to say.  If this were a sit-com, the mother would say something witty and wise, the daughter would look up and smile, they will both laugh, maybe share a hug, and the camera will fade to a cheery back-to-school commercial.  But here a long silence hangs between us because I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know how to handle that kind of pressure.  Things were different in my day.

She’s right about junior year.  From all accounts it’s going to be hard.  AP classes, PSAT testing, SAT I testing, SAT II subject testing, the pressure to bring up or maintain grades, excel in extracurriculars, these components collectively gather force to bear down on any 16-year-old with dreams of attending a competitive college.

Then there is peer pressure.  Because few adolescents know how to handle stress, they salve their own insecurities by gossiping and making derogatory remarks about each other’s academic abilities.  Or they play mental games to puff up their own talents to “psych out” rivals (some are surprisingly sophisticated players at this).  In an ideal world my daughter can ignore all this but even that takes tough mental fortifications.  No one wants to be a target.

Maybe because I am tired and I’m mourning the passage of summer, but wise and comforting words elude me.  I just stare at her as the silence rolls on between us.  It’s not an uncomfortable silence but as a mother, I feel compelled to help her or “fix it” for her.  Tonight I’m all out.

Finally I open my mouth and say lamely, “It’s late.  Maybe you should go to bed.”  She shuffles off to bed and I lean over to turn off the light.  A sneaky suspicion that I’ve bypassed some opportunity sits uneasily with me.


4 Responses to “Pressure”

  1. Sue September 2, 2010 at 12:54 PM #

    Wow, that’s a tough one, Wanchee. I can easily see myself in that situation. I think she probably was looking for some sort of reassurance that all will be okay and she’ll survive, even if it’s hard. When you think of the response that eluded you last night, be sure to share it with her even if it feels awkward bringing it up. She will appreciate it.

  2. JoAnn September 2, 2010 at 8:56 PM #

    Silence is OK at times. You did not disregard her concerns. This is a dialogue that will continue.

  3. ferebe September 2, 2010 at 9:16 PM #

    My plan these days is to honor the sacred silence, and not blow it by saying something really stupid. Being present, holding the space, letting the spiritual energy fill the room, and not say some stupid platitude.

  4. Rufus September 3, 2010 at 5:53 PM #

    The way in which you convey the depth of your feelings about your non-responsiveness to your daughter’s late-night question is very real. I’m betting you are not the first parent to have run out of answers at the end of a hard day. Why not give it some thought, then have another mom/daughter chat when you are fresh – and have your glasses on.

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