She is crying. Hard. Next to me. The towel below is soaked and dried up in places.
I put my hand on her lap.
She looks up and says: I just want you to listen. I don’t want any advice. Please listen.
I hold off my urge to say anything.
She continues to sob. I wait patiently, holding her hand into mine watching our lifelines coincide.
He has a new girlfriend. She manages to say.
I lower my eyes. I did not know that she and he were together. It is all new. I gulp and keep stroking her hand.
She continues with hiccups: I saw her picture. Today. She is really pretty, prettier than me. He looked happy, happier than when … and he hugged me. I tried to feel happy for him but I can’t. This hurts. I don’t know what is wrong with me.
She wipes her nose. She sniffs. Please don’t say anything, she repeats. I know you want to, but please don’t. All of my friends have been talking rather than listening to what I have to say.
My grip on her hand tightens for a moment and then releases. I feel horrible about all the times when she had wanted me to only listen. Instead I had dumped my advice, my experience on her. I feel a pang of failure, rising in my chest.
I look at her again. I recall holding her as a baby in my arms – mindful that the world around will break her heart someday and she’d have no choice but to grow up. Like this. Like today. I recall how I used to wish if I could save her from anything that made her unhappy; wished if I could protect her all the time. A countless number of wishing and hoping went on, but I couldn’t – instead I got side-tracked with conditional love of a parent.
I constantly cautioned her about drugs, unprotected sex and so many other occupational hazards of living but never about love. I never told her – beware of love for it may do irreparable damage. It can make you soar with madness and it can bury you deep. There was a reason. She needed to find her way around the most powerful feelings of all. She needed to grow amidst little thorns of existence, on her terms and not mine.
She pauses and looks at me: What do you have to say about all that? I nod my head and hold her tight.
I want to say – it will pass, but I don’t. I want to say – you are so young and beautiful now, your heart will find ways to distract itself and this first love will soon be a sweet memory, but I don’t. I wish to speak out the mother in me, the ruthless guardian of her reckless, teenage years, but I don’t. Silence seems to be the only dignified thing to do. Silence seems to be the only rightful balm for her ache. I keep hugging her instead. She breaks down again and eventually stops. She gazes at me with affection, with trust, with love. I silently acknowledge. She leaves the room.
I know in a few minutes she will be fine. She will come down the stairs, wearing the same pair of “shortened” shorts that we all absolutely hate. She will leave her long hair open in spite of my thousandth warning. She will do all that and much more to tick me off but that is what I want to see today. I want to see her back – the irritating, laughing, mischievous, sexy teenage daughter of mine. And that brings a smile to my sulking face. I feel privileged to have her and I feel proud of myself. For once, I haven’t overlapped my expectations on her. I have not asked her to do things as they should be, but gave her some space. I have felt her thoughts; I have sensed her fear and her grief of rejection. I have not rationalized her emotions. And most importantly, she chose me to speak to, to comprehend, to realize. I feel my growth by a nano meter I realize, I am on the right track of learning and evolving. I needed it all along, much more than her.
I have always wanted to dwell in the minds of my kids. I always wished I knew what they were thinking so that I could be a better parent, a trustworthy friend, a lifelong shoulder for them. I made a small entrance today, I got in and all I had to do was to stay quiet. To listen. To understand.