Obliviously Sweet Sixteen

Posted in Monthly at 8:39 am by Pasha

Spending a week with a 16-year-old with teach you a thing or two, besides the fact that at 26, you are terribly old!

My niece Kristin came to spend Labor Day weekend with us in Chicago. Having never flown before, never traveled without her mother and being a little on the blond side, it was a riot and a learning experience for us both.

We arrived to meet her at the airport at least 20 minutes late. I was having a coronary. Meanwhile, she was cool as a cucumber and waiting out front with a pink Strawberry Shortcake suitcase. In those first hours I thought about how it felt to be out on my own for the first time; how free and liberating and terribly scared I was.

We walked out of the train station, where Kristin saw a vagrant sleeping in the street. “Is that a bum,” she practically screamed without thinking about how loud she had done it. Quietly, I said “shush, of course,” after all, no need for everyone who could rob us to think we were all surprised by the fact. Then and there, I realized that to a 16-year-old, anything can be said out loud, nothing is off limits and every human is a chance for new discovery.

Kristin screeched even louder, and jumped even higher than I do when a rat strolled across the street. By the time we got home at almost two a.m. there was only one thing to do – stay up half the night talking, bonding and watching lame TV. It felt good to have her in my home.

As the week went on, I remembered that 16 is a delicate age; one where ignorance is bliss and asking astonishingly stupid questions is the norm.

The girl knows everything about My Space, Hollister and Text Messaging, but thinks Chicago is a state, rather than a city in the State of Illinois. She didn’t know the difference in a lake and an ocean, but knows how to coordinate her clothes impeccably.

On Saturday night I had to work, so I let her loose by herself. Kris went shopping on the Magnificent Mile with a solemn promise to be back at Dick’s by dark. She strolled in a little before 9 p.m. having navigated her way around the city by herself. I was so proud.

While I worked the last couple of hours of my shift, Kris got a different kind of education that the ones they teach in school or the words of wisdom Matt and I had been preaching.

Nick, a gay coworker, and Elyse, a coworker who had recently broken an ankle while having a one-night-stand chatted the night away with the 16-year-old. At one point I stopped by the table to check on them and Nick was telling her a tale of two men. I asked if she wanted to come hang out with me. She declined, obviously amused by his ranting, or rather raving. And by the end of the night, she and Elyse where best friends, chumming like they were planning a sleepover later in the week.

As we shopped for what is the requisite teen gear the next day, I noticed how important the details are to teenage girls. They only wear T’s and tanks in layers, must wear straight legs and not boot cut jeans and need hoodies to link the ensemble. The clothes must be one of the hot brands (the best being Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch) and for a girl with a smoking body, like Kris, clothes only come in two sizes, small or super small.

On her last day here, we hosted a small barbecue. Kristin diced the veggies for the pasta salad, meticulous about the size of each cut and talked about her dream to be a chef. I promised her that one day when I open my own restaurant, I’d hire her straight away.

I went with her on the train to the airport early Tuesday morning. It was sad to see her go.

In that 16-year-old girl, I saw a great, big, gigantic future. I saw parts of who I used to be 10-years-ago. And I saw a little girl that I used to baby sit, bathe and put to bed, growing up to be a wonderful young woman.


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