I took the kids to Seward Street slides. They grabbed cardboard pieces and began flinging themselves down cement slides so long and so fast that they have been ruined for the plebeian plastic imposters at every park thereafter. Soon after, a hispanic family showed up. The mother was large and so was her brood. Five smaller children began tearing up the side of the hill and one teenager remained standing undecided by her mother.
I had her pegged at about sixteen, her body the attractive, younger, full-figured version of her mother’s. She was cute, her makeup done even for a summer day at home, and was wearing her best white sneakers. They were having a back-and-forth. Her mother was begging her, please, please, go down the slides. The girl looked torn, a piece of cardboard in one hand, her phone in the other. She equivocated in posture and gaze, her back against the brick wall of the neighboring building. The mother gave up and sat on the bench. The girl, so insistent to her mother, took a few more moments to decide for herself before abandoning the cardboard and sitting on the opposite end of the bench.
She turned her phone over in her hand but didn’t open it, or she’d open it and close it, swipe it open and click it off. Look at it for a moment and then valiantly look around. It was itchy in her hand. And there was nothing for her here. To my chagrin, though without judgement because, hey, I mean, you know me, the mother sat looking at her phone, back to the girl.
I was pretty sure I had these guys figured out after two minutes. Barbara’s gigantic brain classifying people by phenotype and boxing them up with other known specimens.
I had the thought that I should talk to this girl, if it was an adult, another parent, I would talk to her. I only felt hesitation because I didn’t want to be the weirdo creeping on a kid. I mean, what on earth am I going to ask her that isn’t creepy? How old are you? What grade are you in? Where do you go to school? Creep-o.
I went over and sat on the next bench. “Hi,” I said, “My name’s Barbara. What’s your name?” (I have found there is no better way to dive into conversation then ape the simple strategy of my three-year-old.)
“Celestia.” The girl turned her body toward me and smiled over braces. This was not a girl so paralyzed by technology that she couldn’t process in-person interactions, classification shattered.
“You look like you’re bored out of your gourd.”
She laughed, (because “bored out of your gourd” is funny in an ageless sort of way.) “No, I just…” trailing off.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Thirteen,” she said.
“13?!” I said.
She smiled, pleased. I had definitely pegged her as older. She was proud, but, ouch, I thought. She had a woman’s body and five years to go.
“How do you like being 13?” I asked.
“Good.” with a one-shoulder shrug.
“It’s kinda hard, huh?”
“Yeah, I remember. It was like sometimes I felt like an adult and the other half of the time I felt like a kid still.”
“So, Celestia,” I said, “What do you like to do?”
“I play soccer and baseball.” Classification shattered again, my internal surprise revealing the surety with which I had made my judgements.
We went on to talk for about fifteen minutes. We discussed sports for a bit (I was the limiting reactant in that conversation) and then books. We shared our passion for Young Adult science fiction. I told her she needed to finish the Hunger Games trilogy. She told me not to bother with Allegiant. She wrote, she said, science fiction stories mostly but she also journaled every day.
“That’s so helpful,” I said, “being able to process things like that. Keep doing that.”
We ended our conversation soon after. She smiled big the whole time we talked; the Mom never looked up from her phone, even when I asked the creepy questions. (But let’s not judge, people. I mean, she had six kids for the interminable length of a summer day!) Mom gathered her kids shortly after. Celestia looked back over her shoulder and waved.
“It was nice talking to you,” she said.
Teenagers. I was one. I will have them. At some point, I will probably be the mom in the park trying to ignore them. Teenagers are people, too, folks. Talk to one today, remember, and say a sweet prayer of praise that you no longer live in that particular limbo.