September 24, 2006

Silence at Fifteen

When I was fifteen, I was at boarding school in New England. The winters were long, and as my mother intuited and medicine later discovered, the darkness contributed to a black mood.

The content of the mood was a feeling that my entire life was programmed and planned--school, college, work, so that I would never be able simply to walk the streets of a city without a purpose in mind. No doubt there was more to it than that, but such was the essence of the feeling.

In despair, I somehow induced my parents to come up, which involved a long train trip in the snowy winter. For the whole weekend I remained silent. I never did articulate my thoughts, which I was certain they could never understand. How little I knew them or myself!

Another time, at about the same age, my parents took me to the home of one of my father's college friends, who had a son my age. Although we spent the weekend together, I barely spoke to him and he barely spoke to me.

These silences were not angry, but inarticulate. One barely understands one's own new feelings at this age, and must certainly be convinced that no one else can possibly do so, or want to do so.

Now I have a daughter who has just turned 15, a bright, lovely girl who does well in school and resembles me in many ways. This summer I took her to Washington and New York. There were many silences.

Last night I took her to see the new version of All The King's Men. I asked her a few questions and she responded in such a way that it became clear she was choosing not to answer them. She didn't want to listen to music. We watched the water on the way. She said she liked Redemption Song and listened politely to my description of the Ras Tafari religion. When the film was over, she allowed as how it was not great, but we again lapsed into silence.

When once she would turn on the TV and do her homework in the living room while watching animé out of the corner of her eye, now she descends to her room to do her much more demanding homework in quiet.

I realize that my cultural conviction that sharing company means constant conversation is not universally shared.

It also seems to me that although age fifteen need not involve parent-child clashes, there is a necessary movement into independence. She may have neither the need or the ability to challenge us, and yet have a very strong need to become herself.

From time to time, as always, her thoughts and stories do come tumbling out.

I hope her silence is golden.

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