Family Friends Stories

Where Oh Where is my Baby Girl?

I want to hurt her. OK, not hurt her. Maybe just dig my nails into the underside of her upper arm to shut her up. Was I ever this bad? Wait, don’t answer that, Mom. I was totally capable of downright disdainful, dismissive, and I had “disgusted” down pat.

She is a teenager. And she is still capable of small moments of kindness, usually when my credit card is involved.

This is adolescence. “We” are perpetually exhausted, run down, pooped, beat, dead. Everything always hurts or aches. “I’m tired,” she says, and she collapses into me; all long coltish bones and lovely curves.

“I’m soooooo tired,” she says again for emphasis.

“What about me?” I want to scream. “I rose at 5:00 a.m. to walk the damned dogs, packed lunches, started laundry and scheduled your ortho appointment. And that’s on top of my job.” But of course I don’t say anything of the kind. That would send her skittering in the other direction, eyes rolling like dropped marbles. She’ll find out soon enough when she is tending a flock of her own. “Keep it tender,” I think. “Make a false move and she will bolt like a fawn.” She is at least out of her room now, down in the public areas of the house, lured by the smell of a roast chicken dinner.

When I ask her a question in my chirpy, Doris Day voice, she responds in a monotone, like those zombies in “Night of the Living Dead.” She couldn’t be less animated. Unless we are shopping.

Is it wrong to dislike your child sometimes? Are we allowed to admit that? I know she is under there somewhere, like a kid hiding beneath a blanket, I’m waiting for my real daughter to crawl back out.

This is the kid who had a joker-sized smile as a baby; wide and open as a boulevard. I can still see it sometimes, the echo of that little baby girl. I can see it when she finds something humorous, giggles, or decides to engage with me in a joke, something at the expense of her father or sisters. It is there in the flash of her eyes, a glance or an expression. We are colluding in those moments, co-conspirators, and it feels good. Like the old times. And then, abruptly, just when I think we are on that terra firma again, she pulls her head into her shell.

“How did you sleep?” I ask in my most unctuous voice on school mornings .
“Unnnnnggghhhhhhhhhhssssssss.” Is that an animal noise? Vegetable? Mineral gas? Does that even qualify as a response? I wonder, blinking my eyes like a cow.

“I’m so tiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrred.” She slumps onto the kitchen counter, refusing breakfast, eyes fluttering dramatically.

Really? I want to say. You are? That’s a new one.

But snarky aint going to get me anywhere. Naturally, I hold my tongue and quietly slip a banana into her backpack. I can wait this out. I can play “the teen whisperer,” biding my time until she has to appear for food. In these moments there is hope that I might be able to slip a noose over her neck and lure her into spilling one clue that gives me an insight into her psyche these days. I took Psych 101 in college. Darn tootin’.

OK. OK. I’ll be the first to admit that the morning IS my time. I’m overly caffeinated and happy and I’ll talk to you about anything. I have enough energy to tackle America’s healthcare agenda in the morning, but ask me anything around 9:00 PM that requires a brain wave and I might chew your arm off at the elbow. I am a Type A obnoxious morning person. Everyone in the family knows this, and I forgive the others who aren’t. I really do. But just once I want her to stand up tall and say, “I had a great sleep. I feel terrific!”

Perhaps I am being a bit harsh here. She is never the kid who asks for too much. On balance she is pretty good to her sisters. She’ll occasionally spend her own babysitting money on clothes without being told. She is a loyal and generous friend, has never come home drunk and doesn’t doesn’t do drugs (that I know of anyway). She is dutiful and self- motivated when it comes to school work and commitments. And she is sweet. Deep down underneath that teenaged veneer she is sweet as all get-up.

I’ve decided that being a mother to teens is similar to being a Tibetan monk; waiting, patiently, for that one crucial moment when the Dalai Lama passes by in the procession to grace you with his presence and blessing. As a monk, you don’t get to just hang out with the Lama. You don’t get to make yak butter with him or bust out yoga moves and circle chant.

You wait for the Dalai Lama to make his appearance. It’s not that he’s too good for you or too exalted or too…… Lama-ish. It’s just that he has really important stuff to do, like focus on World Peace and human rights. And I figure those monks understand that they can’t get his undivided attention. That’s just the way it is so they go out and do what monks do.

So that’s me. I’m the monk. I’m waiting by the sidelines for the times that the Lama and his entourage pass by with the holy water or prayer shawls or however the Dalai Lama moves through his town offering blessings and eternal goodness.

I figure it’s got to be worth it—waiting for the Lama to smile at you. It’s worth it because in that occasional smile my daughter throws out are a thousand sparkling suns. In her heart, so absorbed now with the stress of SATs and next year’s college applications and who might ask her to the prom, and a bundle of other unarticulated adolescent dreams and disappointments that she doesn’t realize I understand; in that teenaged heart still beats the very essence of my baby girl.

And she will emerge again. It may not be tomorrow. Or next year. Or even until she experiences motherhood for herself, if that’s what she chooses. But I’m a monk. I hold my tongue and I prostrate myself. I wait for those moments of grace. Because in those moments, motherhood is all worth it.


  1. Neal McGrath

    March 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Lee,
    I just wanted to say I really enjoyed you talk at the Rhode Island BIA on Friday. I hoped to say hi after you spoke but I was the next speaker going on and was nabbed by the local NBC affiliate for a quick interview and then had to get on stage and missed you. What I wanted to say was that your point about the importance of supporting hope for families and survivors is absolutely something that too many of us brain injury professionals (and you’re right, especially neuropsychologists like myself) do not understand. As you say, everything else does work itself out over time, whether it’s a better recovery like Bob’s or a worse one. And even when the outcome for a survivor looks terrible to the outside world, those families usually continue to see and be in relationship with their loved onebarest tion in a way that transcends the usual give and take of everyday social interaction. And hope remains central then because even very small changes and progress – things that are not clinically significant to professionals and insurers – continue to mean so much. This lesson may have come easier for me because I grew up with a brother who was brain-injured but too many of us don’t get it. I hope you’ll continue to teach it to brain injury professionals in your travels. You’re doing a wonderful thing. Neal McGrath

  2. Val

    March 29, 2010 at 2:57 am

    I love this, Lee…and you are right–it is SOOOO worth the wait!
    I had a tremendous blessing just this week, and my daughter is 20! She spent 8 months in Uganda last year, and her interpreter during her mission work was just her age, named Glory. Well, I get a chance to chat with this sweet Ugandan girl now and then on facebook chat, and I caught up with her just this week. As we were messaging back and forth, she said to me “Mum, Katy told me that if I ever have a problem, or need to talk to someone, YOU are the one I should talk to!”
    Well, in that moment, as I sat staring at the computer screen, I realized that my time had come–the waiting..the tears (yes, I cried many a time when my daughter was not so kind–just not in front of her)…the fruition of all the “Monk” moments that you mentioned. My daughter is such an amazing person, and I know yours must be too. We are privileged to get to see these complicated creatures grow into who they are going to be. It’s like an onion..when you are peeling it, it sure does sting the eyes! But fully cooked, it is a sweet and savory delight!
    It is SO worth the wait….

  3. Doug Augustine

    March 30, 2010 at 4:32 am

    thanks for your presentation last saturday in san diego. my wife was the one who had to leave the room because she has had to deal with my tbi for the last tow years. never did anyone prepare us for all this. they were more worried about the whiplash . . . the head injury would just go away. well guess what; two years later nothing is the same. anyway, i am sure you have heard this all before. thanks again for your talk. good luck to you and bob. Doug

  4. Eli

    March 30, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    I absolutely positively love your writing voice. It is eloquently authentic. Keep churning it out and I’ll keep drinking it in.


  5. Eli

    March 30, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I absolutely positively love your writing voice. You are eloquently authentic. Keep churning it out and I’ll keep drinking it in.


  6. Sarah

    March 31, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Lee, I love your blog. It is so real to me. I especially appreciate this entry. I am enduring this phase with my oldest daughter and your comments were insightful. I am going to work at being gentle and taking the Dalai Lama approach. You made my day!

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  8. Christine Borgelt

    April 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Your Baby Girl article made me smile. I have two baby girls – 23 and 21, and a baby boy, 6 ft. 5 and 19 years old. Teens really do need all of the sleep that a 2 year old needs – so many brain and body changes! I got through those years by remembering how they played dress up as toddlers; as teens they try on moods and personalities instead.
    I will be attending the MD BIA conference on Thurs/Fri and look forward to hearing you speak. One of the top family support staff where I work, Quality Living in Omaha, NE, heard you speak in CA recently and said, “She thinks like we do about brain injury rehab! She gets it!!” So I am even more excited now to hear your keynote.
    Best regards,
    Christine Borgelt

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