There’s a chance I’m invisible. I’ve suspected it—like Officer Gloria Burgle in season three of Fargo, who can’t seem to trip an automatic door or make a hand dryer turn on in the restroom. I sometimes make comments that no one hears until someone else says them, leaving me to ask myself, “Am I even here? Didn’t I JUST say that?” Certainly with a teenager in the house, it can seem like that. I don’t actually mean to say that I feel unseen or unheard. I’m thinking about invisibility in multiple senses.
When Lydia first went to kindergarten, it struck me that for the first time, whole chunks of her life were unseen by me while she was there. I wished for invisibility as a superpower so I could spy on her at school. I still wish for it. Even though the goal is for her to eventually have her own life, the fact that she has one already can be disconcerting.
I underestimated the ways I would begin to feel invisible as my daughter got older. The ways that a well-placed “Mom, you wouldn’t understand” can make me simultaneously agree completely and also want to say, “Oh yeah? You wanna hear a couple stories?” As if the stories would reinforce myself, substantiate me, prove to her I am a real person who has been where she is. And then I say to myself, “Oh my God. I couldn’t tell her THAT story, could I? Should I? I probably shouldn’t. Maybe I should.”
I underestimated the ways my daughter herself would begin to disappear. When she walled herself off at the beginning of the year and would barely speak, it felt like misery. I wasn’t fully prepared for how much she would seem gone from us. She has been through periods of disappearing throughout the year but mostly she has reappeared.
I have to pull the ultimate party trick as the parent of a middle schooler: Be more visible than ever while making it seem like I’m invisible. Fade into the background while keeping an eye on everything. You can’t be invisible as the parent of a middle schooler, though; in fact, you have to be fully covered in a thick skin, or all that rejection and eye rolling is going to seem personal.
At her age, I know Lydia feels like all eyes are on her, like she’s somehow more visible than others, even though everyone else feels that way, too. I know there are plenty of times she wishes she were invisible when what she feels is like she’s on display.
Her being in middle school has made me think about a lot of things, remember a lot of things. To quote Bruce Springsteen in Glory Days, “…I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it but I probably will.” I don’t think it’s an accident that I can’t stop listening to 80s pop music (anytime Aaron and I start jamming to 80s music, we are nothing but uncool and cringe-worthy) and that over the summer I rewatched every 80s movie I had ever seen. Songs and scenes bringing on nostalgia like a smell. Something with enough substance that somewhere close to me I can feel both the good and the painful of those days. I’m back in the junior high cafeteria for my first dance, all nerves and insecurity. I’m in my room with my jam box and my Columbia House cassettes or my finger poised on “Record” so I could capture my favorite on Casey Kasem’s Top 40. I relive every sigh and swoon from those movies. As a young teen, I was hopelessly focused on the romance. The ecstasy of that Maverick and Charlie kiss in Top Gun. Daniel and Ali in Karate Kid. Blane and Andie in Pretty in Pink. Wanting that kiss for myself. With every crush, holding desperately to the idea of true love forever. With every crush, wishing for that kiss that would make me sure I wasn’t invisible, but seen. By a boy—at the time, the ultimate in being visible. What terrifies me as a parent is that I know that feeling of wanting so desperately to be seen that you make terrible choices.
Sometimes I sense in her the elements of rebellion mounting—insecurity, desiring the approval of others, comparison. Sense her gathering her supplies like the Jacobites readying themselves to beat the British (pardon my 18th century Scotland simile. I’m an Outlander super fan and have read all the books and recently binge watched all available seasons). Other times she wants nothing more than for ME to see her, watch YouTube with her, talk about her day, affirm over and over that I love her, that her hair looks great, her outfit just right. And, for a moment, no insult meant toward the Jacobites, I hope that any rebellion she’s plotting will fail as miserably as the Battle of Culloden. My problem is that I remember everything from being her age with perfect clarity and despite her thoughts to the contrary, I DO understand.
I understand to the point that it seems like an act of courage to send her to school every day. I can only trust in my invisible creator to love her more than I do. To get her through her own stuff. To help her find her way as she makes herself visible in this world.