P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211
Sometime last year my daughter became more radical. I wanted to document it but I didn’t and now it kind of just crept up to this moment, where I can say my 17-year-old is really rad.
In her sophomore year, school spirit mingled with new alternative interests. She started really doing her homework for once which made her grades rise - and her musical tastes changed. Not only did she make incredible duct tape purses; her own t-shirts with radical slogans on them (“Fuck Labels”); collages from magazines laying around the house like Adbusters, but was planning to make a duct tape prom dress in order to try to get a scholarship for college.
She went to her first protest of her own volition, a school walk out to protest budget cuts (while most kids went back inside the building when the teachers told them) and managed to get to the down town demo with only a dollar in her pocket. (She had to hop the light-rail to get back home). She told me later, “I knew you would be all right with it”. Of course!
But when I think of the changes that happened this year, it seems a lot more happened. Especially after she dropped out (“rose up”) from high school. And everything was on her own volition - which makes me feel really good. To see her use initiative, secure with making her own choices, self directed. I have an opinion, I guide and suggest, even scold and praise at times—but you can’t make a teen do what they don’t want to do. I kinda run back up. I answer questions and try to support her.
She enrolled herself in Community School, an alternative storefront school for dropouts in Remmington, and dropped out of that. Both choices were good for her. She was lonely and they were a little family there, but then she tired of repeating the standard curriculum she did last year and felt prepared for her GED. She applied for her GED herself, sending in a money order she got from the 7-11. She did apply a little late, and I did ask about it a few times—but that’s ok.
She looked for work and wound up working full time as a prep cook and waitress. She felt proud “nobody tells me to wake up, nobody tells me to go to work everyday, I just do, I’m like a grown up”. It made her feel good to have independence. I started to feel different about her too, see her as more grown. I enjoyed our easy friendly interactions, how we checked in with each other, but did our own thing. Soon she will be living on her own for real, so this last leg of parenting, well I wanted to her benefit from living with me and having her freedom.
It was funny that, with my well-documented writing of my teen daughter’s conservative rebellion from her rad mom - suddenly the apple wasn’t falling so far from the tree. She died her hair blue-black! Bought a vintage Bauhaus shirt. (She’s not goth though. She just mixes her looks as well as her interests, her own way. The funny, political, feminist, and lesbian collection of buttons on her messenger bag keeps growing.) She is still different than me but I could relate to her better. We are really similar in some ways. She started to explore new interests: Ian bought her a bass, Maggie gave her lessons, both of them burned her mix CD’s to give her a musical education, the background of what some of her indie bands are derivative of. Then she started to write screen plays.
Man, if she stayed in school, she couldn’t have been growing like the way she is now. This is the unschooling people talk about, that my daughter wasn’t interested in when she was younger—she wanted to go to school like the other kids back then. And this is the real world education. She works hard and I can also relate to her waitressing stories. She handles that normal restaurant stress with such composure. I am truly impressed with her abilities to deal with a cook on crack, a late grumpy owner, rude customers, etc. She cooks a lot and considered going to culinary school at one point. Her natural creativity comes out in garnishes, kitchen skills, and problem solving. A fellow waitress (much older) purposely took me aside to tell me how wonderful my daughter is to work with, how amazingly mature she is, the way she handles things. And what a good person she is. She told me, “you did a really good job raising her”. That made me feel great! Cuz really we parents of teens are there, for the hard times, for the least celebrated times, the fucked up times. It’s nice when things work out.
My daughter told me one day about the people she waited on - “real people”. They were a family, the mom and dad had tons of beautiful tattoos - the father was a talented tattoo artist who works from home and she got his telephone number. (“Maybe I will get a tattoo from him when I am 18”) They were nice, joked with her, and weren’t “snobs”. And the kids reminded her of how she was as a wild child. She let them change diapers on a chair when she really shouldn’t.
So, now we are at the point when “real people” are the freak culture she has come from, she is not rejecting her subculture background and so she is being enriched from it. It does have a lot to offer. But she pretty much found her own radical interests for herself. I started keeping my mouth shut a long time ago: letting her do her own thing, and supporting her interests no matter what they were.
This year my daughter started hanging out with me sometimes. (Which I think she stopped having an interest to go anywhere with “mom” when she was like 11) I took her to little record store shows. It felt good, that my daughter would hang out with me, I have so much to show her that I thought she would like, that would inspire her as it inspires me.
When we ate at the Golden West bar on half price burger night, she said, “being in a bar reminds me of my childhood, I remember my head coming up to just under the bar”. When we ate breakfast at Pete’s Grill I remembered how we had ate there when she was little, and she took the plastic rat that hung out at Normal's Bookstore with her and had it under her arm. A little girl who loved to play with a big black plastic rat. It gave an old man a scare. I told her the story.
I remember some of our first shows (Crash Worship in SF was our first real show, not just being a friends band playing at a party, when she was one and a half or so. We only went in for a few sets.) Together, this year, at Atomic Books “I hate the 80’s” anniversary party, after being a wall flower for a bit she dove in and made new friends, enjoyed herself up front of the bands. We had a good time together, doing our own thing then sometimes circling back to hang out together or check in with each other. My friend Lauren told me how great my kid was, how interesting to converse with; how she was so proud of her, how not shy she was. “Yea, that’s how she used to be. Used to dance at shows and make friends everywhere she went. This feels familiar to me.” I replied.
So people know I have a kid again! Some are surprised, and a 17 year old one at that. Others see her around town “I know your mom” - she can’t escape my shadow she says laughingly.
She’s going to shows on her own too - Le Tigre at Sonar with her Aunt but the WHFS festival she went to on her own and paid for it herself. I felt scared to leave her at the big stadium all day show - scared of weird drunk guys from the suburbs - but when I dropped her off and saw a lot of those kiddie faces, I knew my kid could hold her own. She had a great day, even got in the mosh pit and experienced the crowd, falling down, being pulled up, others sweat drenching you.
And then the night came, where she went out with a new friend to the International Drag King Festival (in DC, she didn’t tell me that part) and didn’t come home. And for the first time, I didn’t worry about my daughter. I knew she was having fun. I felt fine about her company. And she had a great time, she met a new household of people, young creative working adults. She found her “niche” she told me. She helped one of them paint her bedroom red and work on a fish pool in the back. She read books at their house, listened to music, ate with them and laughed. She didn’t come home for three days.
I remember the time I went to a party at this house and wound up moving in. You know that feeling of meeting a new group of people that open up the world to you? So I started fearing she might move out sooner then I thought and all of a sudden felt a simply horrible and unexpected feeling—the “empty nest syndrome”! I like my kid! I just like her presence around, coming and going. After all these years, uh, who could have known, that it wouldn’t feel like freedom when she leaves (I’m already free to do what I want, write for days, not come home at night, go to a party or even book tour for a week) but just emptiness? Who would have known that kids get so nice to be with - right before they are ready to take off, one last little your-fucked-parenting-surprise, just so it hurts when they go.
I mean I really don’t worry about my kid anymore, I believe in her. Yes, life is kinda a fragile thing for us all and anything could happen at any moment. But I have confidence in her, she is a great and cool person. Just I’m gonna miss her!
So believe me you, when she came back I was happy for her to be around again. She dragged me to Sowebo Fest (a yearly street festival in south-west Baltimore) after work on Sunday, when I get off at 4. I didn’t want to go but she was antsy and it’s hard to get across town for her so she wanted me to drive her. I wound up having a good time!
It was beautiful weather, and I did see some people I knew. I hadn’t been there for so long, not since it rained it out every year. It used to be so fun once upon a time ago. I would drink and enjoy friend’s bands and look for the one other rad mom with a kid for my kid to play with. So we walked around and I saw a few teenagers I had last seen as babies etc.
We saw a new puddle of punks lying on the ground together. How many years it has been since I have lost touch with what new generation of punks is coming up! Well, I saw one of them: the young punk kids I knew are now all 30. I told that to dd. Both of us thought the punks were cute though, begging for beer money, with a ukulele going to put on a little song and dance show, a friend passed out on the side walk with a sign “dollar for a kiss” and a bucket to throw the money in. Two of the guys reminded me in particular to two guys I had known long ago, friendly jokesters with the crowd.
Sitting on the curb with an old friend of mine and his girlfriend, nephew and nephew’s friend, we talked about the fact I write for Slug & Lettuce. And I didn’t go to the punk picnic yesterday. I’m too old I said. Funny, I’m not a punk anymore. You know. But I write for Slug & Lettuce. “And your not much of parent either, you’ve documented every step of my life and now I’m on my way out” said my daughter. We all laughed. I shrugged my shoulders. Yea, what am I going to write about? I tell you I have a lot to write about - but is this column done?
Preparing to take her first Greyhound Bus trip all by herself, to Wisconsin—I realized that my daughter feels pretty secure and not scared to go into the world. She has been exposed to it over time; it is no big surprise to her. She’s not led a sequestered existence: she’s been poor, had money, experienced rough times, has been talked to like an intelligent being, and had bites of independence all along the road. I feel good about that, that I did raise her right. I let her live out her own choices yet protected her also in the right balance. I know I shouldn’t take the credit exactly, and I’m not. I’m just saying when I was 17 I felt a lot more scared of going out into the “real world” than she does. Things are changing so fast. I’m feeling proud these days and my daughter is treating me with respect, love, and openness in return.
I’m glad my daughter has become more radical in some ways, because I hope she finds strength and inspiration there - instead of in the envy and depersonalization of being a slave in “the united states of marketing”. Trying to live up to mainstream middle class visions of life is very anxiety producing. And I’m enjoying the positive changes in our relationship as she grows past early teenage-hood. Its more important to me, the way we have been getting along, than the fact that she is more similar to me than she thought.
I am not saying that everything is the same for everyone. I am just saying that teenagers rebelling from their radical parents - isn’t an aberration. It happens. It can really hurt to see them reject and be angry with you for your closest held ideals. But in the end, I think they will find the values they have been raised up with serve them well—better even than some of the material things they lacked and wished they had as a younger teen—and they find a familiar home (and heritage) within the counterculture. The spirit lives on!
- China, P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211, China410@hotmail.com