Thursday, 24 May 2018

Life with Teenaged Girl

Not a recent photo, but one I still love, and taken near the opera house; The Girl camouflauged in Dublin. 

This is close to the tenth anniversary of this blog, and I feel like I should write something more momentous to mark the occasion. This year, however, has been a frantic one for us, filled with the burning usual of life.

For ten years I have filled these pages with The Girl, who toddled along unsteady legs when we first moved here, pointed with awe at the creeping mini-beasts, fluttering birds and distant cows that we adults have learned to ignore, and like Adam she gave them all names. I have written about our walks through the woods, our bedtime stories and conversations, and our folk songs and old movies that passed the long winter nights.

As she grew older I shared our homeschooling lessons about Homer and Hesiod, our experiences getting chickens and bees, and her taking up of horseback riding and archery. We travelled all over these islands, from  the ruined monsteries of the far islands of Scotland, where we stood inside the roar of Fingal's Cave, to the Blasket Islands off the Dingle coast, where we saw humpback whales breach out of the sea around us, and dolphins leap out alongside our boat. Finally, I took her to my native Missouri, where we both saw our birth country with new eyes.

These days she is now The Teenaged Girl -- she rides horses every weekend, brings home many archery trophies, and sings in the school choir. Our relationship went through a rough patch last year with the onset of adolescence and high school, but seems to be relaxing now; most evenings we hug and recap her day, and she tells me about the latest melodrama among her friends or whatever's bothering her.

Occasionally we gently argue over politics and religion, and I welcome that too -- I accept that she won't always agree with me, but if she continues to ask probing questions about the world, listen politely to other people's point of view, and argue logically for her own, she'll be ahead of 99 per cent of people I meet these days.


One interesting feature of her upbringing: the school's music teacher warms up the class by leading them in songs from musicals, often Disney movies from the 1990s. The Girl was the only one, she said, who had to learn the Disney songs, as she was the only one who had not grown up with Disney movies.

"I'm not mad about it," she said to reassure me. "On the other hand, I was the only one in the school who didn't have to learn the words to "Puttin' On the Ritz."


The other evening her choir went to Dublin for a concert, and before the concert she and her group of teenaged girls -- a gaggle of girls? A giggle? -- went into some of the stores in Dublin, and they lost a few of their friends and were briefly concerned. Finally, she said, her friends emerged from Top Shop, which is apparently where all the cool kids go these days.

"You have to watch out for Top Shops," she said. "Their clothes draw teenagers in, and the store just swallows them whole for a while."

Do they spit them out again eventually, like a catch-and-release rule? I asked

"Well, this was a particularly aggressive Top Shop," she said. "It held onto my friends like a dog with a bone, and didn't want to let go."

I'll remember to spray our fields for Top Shops this season, I said, to make sure they don't spring up around us like triffids.


Even if The Girl wants to mostly do her own things these days, she still watches things with me occasionally. The other night we watched Duck Soup -- coincidentally, a few nights later I would kill my neighbour's ducks for her, and we had duck soup ourselves. Last year I took her to see Citizen Kane and The Shawshank Redemption,  as she is old enough to see them now. And a few weeks ago she let me take her to a live opera, where we saw The Marriage of Figaro.

I'd taken her to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and to The Magic Flute a few years ago; here in Ireland cinemas often live-stream performances from the Dublin or London stage, so we can see things like that for the price of a movie ticket. This was our first time seeing a live opera, though, as well as one with such mature themes -- which I described to her, knowing her adolescent taste for the adult and formerly forbidden, and sure enough, she was excited to see it. 

For those who don't know, Marriage of Figaro revolves around servants in a wealth household -- Figaro and Susanna -- who are about to be married. Their employer, the Count, has an eye for the ladies and an unwholesome attraction to Susanna, however -- which appalls her, Figaro, and the Count's wife. The three of them conspire to serve a bit of revenge on the Count -- a story far ahead of it's time and surprisingly relevant today.

One snag came up when we left the house and got in the car to drive to Dublin, though -- the latch on our car door stuck, and the door wouldn't close. We could only drive while The Girl was holding the door shut so it wouldn't swing open -- which was fine on our country roads, but not on the motorway to the city. Instead, I drove to the nearest bus stop, we parked the car in an out-of-the-way place, and hoped no one would notice that the door was open.

We caught the bus into town, but then we realised we had a second problem: the last bus came home at 11 pm, right when the opera ended. To catch it we'd have to race from the Opera House to the bus stop on the quays of the River Liffey, and we'd be cutting it close.

The opera was lovely, and both of us had a great time --- but as the last song died down, I checked my watch, and it was exactly 11 pm. I whispered to The Girl, "Time to go," and we tip-toed out of the crowd toward the door.

Once we were at the door I shouted, "GO! GO! GO!" and we sprinted flat out, in our Sunday best, down the streets of Dublin to the river -- about half a mile at least -- until we made it to the bus stop, noting with relief that no bus had come yet.

Then came the third problem: No bus came after that either. They had cancelled the last bus, and we were standing in the drunkard section of Dublin on a Saturday night with no way to get home. Finally I had us take the last bus, which took us vaguely in the direction we were going, until we got to the town of Kilcock, where we ordered a country taxi to our car, and drove home. 

We didn't get home until around 2 am, but it was worth every penny, and every second. She's growing up so fast, and I want to take every second I can while she lets me.

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