Back Burner | Strawberry Girl

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Strawberry Girl

From June 6, 2010. Original post and comments found here.

Josie turned 14 last week. A teenager. Of course she was a teen last year, being 13 and all, and possibly even before that at 12, which I recall as spiked with previews. Still if 13 has training wheels, then 14 speeds away. You can let it run you over, and you can also lay down and get run over again. These are the choices.

Theres good news, too. Shes wonderful, lovely and smart and funny, as she always has been. She is all those things and now more, independent and stubborn and debate-ready, on matters from politics to proper barrette placement, which, Id forgotten, is crucial.

She does not have one answer. She has ten. On a truly inspired day, twelve.

Who was there? Well, so-and-so was there, and her friend, and nobody else. Nobody? Well, oh yeah, there was that guy, and his friend, and his little brother, but theyre boring. And someones mom dropped her off but then she had to leave, to go to yoga. And oh yes Emily was there but not that Emily, not the one you dont like, the other one. There were tons of people I knew. Tons? But, you know, nobody else was there.

So the news, then, is that even when they are lovely-smart-funny, the pleasures of agreement are few. She thinks adults oversimplify, always assuming a situation is either perfect or totally awful. She says its all flexible, all open to possiblity. Nothing is just one way.

I called my mother the other day and asked, where is the reward here? What is it? Oh, Josie is my reward, she said. I was stunned. Its not me? The adult me isnt your reward? Well, she said, you are, but shes the easiest reward.

I told her well, shes quite complicated right now. Your own daughter takes longer, she said. You did.

One hot afternoon last week, first in a long line of scorchers, Josie got home from the pool and was sitting in the kitchen eating popcorn, briefly friend- and phone-free. I pounced, and she couldnt believe her luck: errands! She would join me on errands. Gas, dry cleaning, dog food place and the local co-op for eggs, asparagus, salad greens, fruit. And because any errand-mate must act as my extra hands, on the way home it was Josie who held the small green basket, dropping tiny leaves and fine dirt in her lap, the first strawberries of the season.

The berries were misshapen and candy red, embroidered with yellow seeds. Josie cupped the basket, turning berries over with one finger, picking at curled green stems. Her hair was still wet and she wore friendship bracelets, the wrist code of teen girls: this is my favorite, these are my friends, thats my design. I wore shorts, which I generally avoid up to August, and also a ponytail, in place through October. To me summer is a stack of camp forms, frizzy hair, bathing suit shopping, bug spray. Of course for most people summer, I know, is the golden child of seasons, joy without fuss. Josie was an unfussy baby, and later an unfussy child. Now she embraces its complications, this almost-high school life, juggling friends, algebra, parents, lockers, friends. Choices.

In the car she was quiet, rather suspiciously not asking for objects, rides or permissions. She wanted to get home, to zoom through dinner and reach dessert. Squinting through five o clock rays at the berries on her lap, I asked Josie: what should we do with them?

Should I make strawberry cobbler? Soak them in rum? Buttermilk strawberry cake, strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry rum sauce or ice cream or strawberry-banana crepes?

We should eat them, she said, and popped one. Just eat them.

And that is what we did.