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The Night My Daughter Found My Old Yearbook

It has been a particularly brutal night in our house. On top of the regular chaos that goes along with our evening routine that includes dinner, laundry, dishes, and homework, my 13-year-old is upset about school. There is trouble with math, procrastination about showering, and misery about having to prepare for the next day. She is shutting down.

I’m losing her.

Sometimes, especially at this age, it’s hard to get her back. Sometimes we fight, clashing in the mother-daughter battles that seem to mark this year more than any other.

When I go upstairs,  I expect more of the same. Instead, my daughter is sitting on my bedroom floor with an open book on her lap. The hope chest at the foot of my bed is open. It is a disorganized mess that reminds me of yet another chore I must find time to fit into a life already filled with too much. For a moment, I think about telling her that she can’t just go through my things. Of course, most of the things in there are from the kids, the mementos I’ve kept as they’ve grown—dresses, baby books, and art projects.

“I found your old yearbook,” she says, brushing away a piece of hair that’s fallen in her eye and looking up at me.

The gray book is marked by time, a scrape runs across the front cover and a few pages are loose. I know this is a peace offering. For now, I’ll take it. For now, I decide I’ll let the mess and the anger go. It is something I’ve learned to do often as a mother, especially since my children have morphed into teenagers.

Sitting down next to her, I look at the pages of my old yearbook that take me back to a time when I was only a few years older than my daughter is now. It was a time marked by hormones, confusion, difficult friendships, and a million firsts.

“This is you, isn’t it?” my daughter asks, pointing to the 1990s version of a teenage me, one I haven’t thought of or seen in years.

I nod.

Though I used to be her, I don’t know that girl now. She has been lost over the decades of marriage and children. It seems she exists only in those memories preserved in ink and photos trapped on glossy paper.

We leaf through the pages of my old yearbook, pausing to talk about friends I haven’t seen in years, and the few I’ve managed to keep tabs on through social media. I tell my daughter bits of news about who they were and who they’ve become. They are nothing like the people I expected them to become.

Neither am I.

“What is SADD?” she asks, as she comes across another picture of me with big hair and a spray-on tan.

“Students Against Drunk Driving,” I tell her, wondering if this club still exists in high schools.

On the next page, we find a picture of me in a high-backed white wicker chair, a close-lipped smile for the photographer. “I was trying to be cool by not smiling,” I say.

“You look constipated,” my daughter counters.

I laugh, knowing the 16-year-old girl in the picture would have been mortified, but the woman I’ve become is not. Across the bottom of the page, someone had scrawled a message, “To one of my BFFs. See you this summer. Love ya.” The girl who wrote the words was funny and kind. She is a bank vice president raising three kids now.

My daughter turns the pages and there are pictures of dances, field trips, and assemblies. It is a collage of what it meant to be young.

We talk about mean girls and hairstyles, and she marvels at the clothes and how much I’ve changed. I marvel at how close she is to being the age I once was.

Soon she will be in high school. In the fall, she enters her last year of middle school. As we continue to explore my high school life, the difficulties of the night dissipate, evaporating as we share the past and the present.

“Well, I’m going to shower,” she says, as she hands me the yearbook. “Then, I’m going to do my math homework. Can we watch a show after?”

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After promising her that we can watch TV as long as she gets everything done, I take a last look at the girl I used to be. Then I close the book, placing it back in the hope chest by my bed. I’m happy to have shared a piece of my life from a time before, a time I’d lost, with my daughter. Maybe it helped her to see that once, I was like her.

Nicole Johnson is a freelance writer who maintains the page Suburban Shit Show: Tales From the Tree-Lined Trenches, a community built to foster the real and raw truth about motherhood, marriage, and midlife. Her work has been featured on The Washington PostRedbookMs. MagazineScary Mommy and The Huffington Post.

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