Column: Dining With The Diva Princess

By Susan Parker
Tuesday November 14, 2006

I lost my husband and acquired a teenager. It’s not much of a deal. I still have to clean and shop, and carry out the trash. I still have to water the plants, pay the bills, and turn down the volume on the television.  

I no longer have to help someone get in and out of a wheelchair, or dress and assist him with eating, but now there’s a new set of responsibilities. I have to make sure my friend Jernae gets out of bed in the morning and off to school on time. I have to ascertain that she returns safely to my home by 5 p.m. I thought I would need to nag her about homework, but, surprisingly, she doesn’t have any. (A meeting with a counselor revealed that there is no homework at this continuing education high school. As I understand it, Jernae gets extra credits just for showing up.)  

I signed an agreement with Jernae and her mother and grandmother that I would make certain she is not on her cell phone after 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. It’s not easy. Cellphones are small and can be set on vibrate mode. Teenagers are sneaky, and know how to whisper.  

I promised Jernae that I would spend one hour per day with her reading, writing and discussing what we have read and written, but this has proven to be difficult. She only reads and writes rap lyrics and MySpace entries, and she’s not much into sharing these with an adult. She has begged me to combine reading and writing with dinner, but that wasn’t in the original agreement. We are often silent while we eat. Sometimes I’m the only one who consumes food. More lonesome than eating alone is sitting across the table from a drama princess who is simultaneously sighing, watching the minute hand on the clock, and tapping her knife against a plate of cold, untouched mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and broccoli.  

Our reading and writing period has morphed into a high stakes Scrabble marathon that includes questionable spellings and commonly used street words not always found in the Scrabble dictionary. I have learned new slang, but these are not words I can use in normal, everyday adult conversation. Recently, I discovered a new definition for the word “boy,” and a disturbing way in which to use the word “daft.” There was an argument over how to spell quote/quoate, and another over the use of the letter S. Bitter silence ensued for the next 55 minutes.  

But it’s not all bad. I could be in the house for long periods of time unaccompanied, playing Scrabble with myself. I could be in a seedy bar drinking heavily with strangers, jockeying for a parking place at Trader Joe’s, or fighting for lane space at Temescal Pool. I could be dealing with any number of the thorny situations in which parents and teenagers often find themselves. Fortunately, Jernae doesn’t drive. She doesn’t drink or do drugs and (except in cyberspace and cell phone airspace), she doesn’t chase after boys. Right now my biggest concerns involve food consumed while surfing the net, candles lit while watching television, bathroom doors locked for unbearably long periods of time, and the obsessive-compulsive use of the telephone.  

Here’s the trade-off. One of the reasons Jernae likes staying at my house is because it’s quiet and besides me, she’s the only one there. My motivations are just the opposite. Sometimes, while she is talking on the phone or watching television, I can hear her laughter from the other side of the bedroom wall.