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‘You okay, Mama?’

The workday is rough, human beings act like beasts sometimes, wolves in sheep’s clothing to be exact, and I sink into the sofa in my daughter’s room. She knows me too well. “You okay, Mama?”

I tell her all about it, my 16-year-old who speaks, on nights like tonight for instance, with a wisdom (and wit) beyond her years. She hears me out, makes me laugh despite myself in between my narration of the events of the past few days (yes, it was THAT kind of week). I listen to her speak and I do not know how they (their generation) manage to seem wiser, more sophisticated, more opinionated, more brave than the 16-year-olds of my time.

My generation did not reason things out with adults; we smiled through fat tears, stood in the corner submissively when we were ordered to by parents, hid life’s pains even as we felt them through the pages of a diary or bent the ears of our best friend. The children now are allowed — no, even encouraged I would say — to speak it all out. To say it as it is, call out an erring adult if need be; they even weigh in on issues of national interest. Maybe that is why they are less fearful, more objective, less emotional. Because they are encouraged to communicate, not leave it all bottled up.

I often share this observation — with my sister, my husband, or my closest friends — and, because we have no clear answers to the hows and whys, we blame it on the hormones in the chicken these millennials eat, but we also agree that social media plays a big part, too. My teenager opines what she would have done if she were me, under the same circumstances, a prognosis I completely agree with in hindsight, except that I am too tired and too worn out by the day and its people to even begin any kind of wishful thinking. Because really, all I had the energy for that very moment was to get out of my clothes, take a shower, wear one of Richard’s white T-shirts, sink into a cold bed under thick warm sheets, overdose on lavender and cedarwood oil diffused together, and watch Designated Survivor. The show does nothing to relax me, truth be told, and many times I wonder why I do it to myself. I should be listening to soft music, all lights out, maybe a sleep mask on to block out the remains of the day, and binge watching a show so full of suspense seems like quite an odd and contradictory choice. But I go ahead and do it anyway, even if half of me is contemplating Love, Actually or The Crown as a more gentle option.

Days like today, I question many things, the psyche (and mystery) of people we meet along the way. In the same breath I count my blessings, and there are many. When I was in her room earlier, after my own ranting, Juliana tells me about little pockets of school life as she finds it now. I am grateful for moments like this, and there are many — moments when I pad wearily across the hallway from my room to hers. Just to talk. To have someone listen without being judged. To have someone to learn from, because yes, I do learn quite a lot from her fresh perspective on things. Also, maybe I like her room so much because it feels like another refuge. I love that I can close my eyes as I sit on her sofa and feel young again in a space that effortlessly breathes it, as I listen to music I do not recognize, to find out that The Weekend is a singer/songwriter and not just Saturday or Sunday; to listen to teenage life and be reminded of my own, how many things have changed and how many have stayed the same. It is invigorating, and does much to peel off that week’s worth of accumulated debris of weariness that has made me feel like a thousand years older than I actually am. Once very recently we went to Lusso in Greenbelt 5, because she was hungry from school, and I had one of my happiest and lightest random afternoons, in that beautiful space that reminds me of a giant jewelry box. We ate fat and butter guiltlessly, and were all the happier for it. She is funny, in a way that reminds me happily of the resident funniness of my own mother. Well, she is, after all, named after Mommy: Juliana to my mom’s Julia. We ate, we talked, we laughed, doing that on repeat for the whole stretch of the afternoon. It was very nice.

I think now about how I am not a Tiger Mom by any real measure, something I questioned myself for several times in the past and, at one point, even felt guilty about. There are so many articles that say a mother should be this or that for a child to be truly ahead of the pack when the time is right. I feel, though (and this is just me, no offense meant to other mothers who think otherwise), that more than being The Best now it is equally important for any child to be happy growing up, to be able to develop all her other gifts and pursue her own dreams far away from the shadows of her own mother’s dreams for her. In the grander scheme of things, maybe one day the world will gently agree that it is achievement enough for any one person to, in a world full of contradictions and great expectations, bloom into the person God designed her to be, whatever that is, sans all the trappings of the “shoulds” and “have tos” that human beings in a cutthroat world roll out as musts.

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Even as I miss that age when she was tiny still, totally dependent on me and her daddy, that age when she once tenderly told me “Mama, I wish I met you already when you were also a little girl, so we could be playmates and best friends,” I love that she is a 16-year-old now: funny, thoughtful, with a kind of strength and courage that I sometimes wish I also had, even if the same were to be dispensed strategically only on days when I need it most. She is less emotional, and more objective than I am, something she got from her dad, maybe. I love that she tells me about poke bowls and grains, teaches me about squats and leg exercises, walks into my room in the middle of the night in her sleep shirt and my highest heels, because she saw them and wanted to see if she could run in them: youth. When I am old and gray, I will remember all the times we raided the ref together in the middle of the night, how we borrow each other’s clothes and shoes, the way she polices what I wear when I am too tired to care, the way she checks on me when I am away. “Is your flight on time, Mama?” “Will Dad be with you?” “Is that place safe?” “Have you eaten?” Really, it’s the little things.

I am endlessly thankful, too, for days like today when being a mother, and having a child like my Juliana, feels like the only thing right in a day (half) full of woes.

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