My daughter Coco and I have always gotten along well, like the picture here, taken ten years ago back in Hawaii. Now Coco’s 15 years old and the two of us are in our kitchen in Georgia. It’s been a challenging year, but it’s a nice morning.
So, the sun’s shining, Nana’s taken her Rice Krispy’s and coffee into the living room to read the paper, I’m putting dishes in the dishwasher and Coco’s making ramen noodles. She glances out the kitchen window that faces our backyard.
“Those squirrels are never going to give up on that birdfeeder,” she says.
I glance out the window as a gray squirrel jumps from the trunk of a pine tree trying to reach the feeder hanging from one of its branches. He misses wide. Coco laughs. The jays, cardinals and finches chowing down on the new seed we just put in, ignore the frustrated squirrel chattering and jumping around. Our freakishly oversized standard poodle, Danny doesn’t though, and he whines desperately until Coco lets him outside and he chases the squirrel up another tree barking in outrage, scattering the birds. Then Danny checks the perimeter for any other squirrels skulking about, and then satisfied he’s put things right, settles down on the patio to guard the birds, now fluttering back to the feeder.
“That dog is nuts,” Coco says.
“He thinks he’s protecting the birds,” I say.
“Yup, just like he protects us from UPS guys.” I say, closing up the dishwasher. “Oh, did you give Amy a call yet to see about getting together over summer break?”
I don’t know why I brought it up, the thought just popped in my head, like a million thoughts do every second of everyday, but obviously I should have kept this one to myself. Coco’s face flushes red and she slams the spoon she was stirring the ramen noodles with onto the counter, shattering the pleasant morning mood.
“No!” she yells, “I didn’t, okay? And I don’t know if I’m going to, so just drop it!”
But thinking I can fix things because that’s what dads do, (or at least the dads on Lifetime movies when they’re not plotting murder or sleeping with babysitters,) and because I love my daughter beyond measure (blah blah blah, as she would say) but mostly because I want to get back that pleasant morning mood I was so enjoying just seconds ago, I do the wrong thing and don’t drop it. Coco had just this last semester started breaking out of her shell and having the beginning of a social life. I was sure there was something I could do to help. Nobody in the world has less of a clue than a father with good intentions.
“I thought you guys were friends,” I said.
“We are.” She says through gritted teeth stirring the noodles so they’re slopping all over the stove, hissing on the burner.
“Did something happen, Coco? Somebody say something or something?” I asked, getting lamer by the second as Coco’s ramen was beginning to look like it was in a blender with the top off. When “something” starts sprouting in their sentences like this, smart parents shut up, but not me. “Looks like your noodles are done, honey. Maybe you should turn off the burner…”
“I know! I will!” she yells, turning to me with tears in her eyes. “Amy’s got tons of friends. Tons, okay? See? Get it?” And with that she turns off the burner, pours what’s left of her noodles into a bowl, grabs a spoon and stomps off to her room.
My daughter, like me, is an ADHDer whose nerves are often on edge. We are both cheerful, high energy types, but can swing into dark and distrustful moods without warning. We also share short term memory issues, often forgetting familiar names of people, places and things in the middle of sentences, which can make one feel like an idiot. Because she’s an adolescent dealing with a new and intense social world, feeling like an idiot is more of an issue for Coco. I’ve gotten used to it, except when I forget how it felt when I was undiagnosed but still very much ADHD in high school myself, and had the same problems with fitting in and self-worth that Coco does now.
Later that night, Coco and I were sipping sodas and sharing popcorn, engrossed in the X-Men First Class movie. The two of us have seen all of this series and we’ve loved them all. The stories of people ostracized and misunderstood because of differences in their genetic makeup they couldn’t control, not surprisingly resonated with us. But this movie, with all the heroes young, new to their gifts and confused really resonated with Coco especially. At one point, a young heroine who finally accepted what she was completely, yelled out, “Mutant and proud!” And Coco and I turned and smiled at each other. She gave my hand a squeeze and we both turned back to the screen, both of us still learning to live mutant and proud.