Yesterday I texted my 16 year old daughter (who was in the house, upstairs): “The Superbowl is on, do you want to watch the halftime show with me?” (She will be 17 in 10 days.) She likes the privacy of her space and doesn’t like me knocking on her door every time I have a question or a thought. We have discussed it and I said I can give her the respect of privacy in her room. So we text in the house (don’t judge me). She texts back: “Yes I want to watch it with you, I’ll come down.”
This is one of those moments I know well that I call Windshield Time. It is a moment to connect by sharing an experience shoulder-to-shoulder rather than face-to-face. It has a feeling of equality, appreciation, affection, and familiarity. Face to face is more direct, focused, and more intense. Windshield Time feels safe and comfortable and casual, it is relaxed and not superficial, low pressure, not demanding, easygoing, and safe. Windshield Time has become the sweet spot of parenting my teenager and has led to many close and intimate moments; here comes another Windshield Time moment, during the Superbowl halftime show.
She gets a pillow, snuggles under a blanket and puts her feet in my lap. The halftime show starts. She sings along with every song. She says “Mom do you know ANY of these songs?” I say “I’ve heard one of them,” and she laughs and says “that’s how you know you are old.” We laugh, I say “Yes I’m old.” We copy some of the dance moves from the performance, we act goofy, we laugh at each other. She deconstructs the psychology of the sales pitches in the commercials saying things like: “that is the classic slippery slope argument” which I ask her to explain. The game starts up again. She says “I don’t understand the rules of football. It makes no sense.” I say, “I’ll talk you through what is happening, you’ll get it after a few minutes.” As the game progresses I explain how downs work, the points, punting, field goals, rules, player positions, fouls, hand signals, the strategy. She starts to get it and gets into the game, saying “It’s like a chess game with violence.” We laugh.
During the second half of the game she slowly starts to reveal a few surprising thoughts and describes some difficult situations to me. This is what sometimes happens during and after Windshield Time. The game is still going and we are side by side tracking strategy, points, fouls… she feels a safe connection, needs to talk and needs me to understand her experiences. I listen without judgement and ask questions. Much of it is shocking to me.
Coronavirus. A year of virtual school. No sports. No social events. Life on hold. Social Media. Friendships. Bullying. Insecurity. Mental health. Risky behavior.
She begins to open up and reveals to me stories of kids confronting mental health issues, risky and dangerous behavior and episodes of surprising social cruelty. She tells me some kids she knows do super risky things and completely hide their shocking behavior from their parents. She says most parents do not understand kids today at all. It is alarming. Many of the kids she is describing are good kids, athletes with over 4.0 GPAs and high SAT scores, destined for Ivy League colleges and success in life in general. I vocalize strong opinions about behaviors that I find unacceptable; I articulate the potential long term consequences with emphasis and clarity, I quote studies and data as back up. She has heard this before from me. She opens up and reveals a bit more. She reassures me that she has done a decent job making good decisions in the face of situations she has had to confront. She promises to keep making good decisions.
She needed to hear me say the same things again, like a broken record on repeat. She needed to do a safety check with me; she is feeling uneasy and unsure in this world and needs to feel grounded, supported, rooted again. She tells me many of her friends can’t talk to their parents at all and says kids feel sad when they can’t. I tell her I appreciate her openness and honesty and I reassure her again that I will be there for her no matter what. We hug, I tell her I love her, she kisses me on the cheek and goes upstairs; I exhale deeply, I notice I am feeling shaky; I realize I have been trying not to cry.
It’s all too much sometimes! It is too much for the tiny fragile humans we have raised so delicately and carefully from the time they were learning to tie their shoes and read to be thrust into a dangerous, unfriendly and risky world 10 years later. They will never be ready for what is coming next.
At some point we cannot protect or shield them from danger any longer. She has to handle difficult situations by herself. What I can do now is be there for her, allow her to trust that I will listen, allow her to count on me for safety and support, give her a moral compass that is sturdy yet compassionate.
Did she come downstairs to watch the halftime show and learn the rules of football? I know with certainty that she came downstairs because she needed to talk; she knows how Windshield Time works too.