Tuesday, April 16, 2013

True Confessions: I was stalked by my teenaged daughter

I’ll just confess it right here – I’m probably the only person my age who has never smoked pot --  not once, not even at a party, not even if, like Clinton, I could claim I didn’t inhale. If you wonder how someone who graduated from college in 1979 missed that particular almost-universal experience, I have an easy answer: I was reading a book.

Also, I’ve been married since 1992, and I’ve never had an extramarital affair. The reason for that? I gave my husband a surprise 39½ birthday party in 1998, and the pressure of keeping the secret just about killed me. He’d come home from work and casually mention that he had run into a friend that afternoon, and it was all I could do not to shout, “That guy is coming to the party! The one I’m giving in two weeks and you don’t even know about!” My heart would start beating so fast that I’d get sweaty and have to go lie down. I’m sure he chalked it up to early menopause and never gave it a second thought.

Meanwhile, short of breath and perspiring heavily, I stored all the party supplies in the next-door neighbor’s garage, living in fear that he’d run over there one day, demanding to borrow a Dremel drill from Eric Bachman (not that either of them would know what that was) and uncovering my guilty secret. I used to lay awake in bed at night, worrying that all the Coke cans from next door were emitting a faint glow through the garage windows, and fearing he’d wake up and get wise any second. It was a horrible few weeks, and I learned my lesson about keeping secrets. Don’t.

Given my complete goody-two-shoes nature, I honestly have no idea why my teenaged daughter decided that she had Probable Cause to suspect that I was Up To No Good, and stalked me to what she described as “an unfamiliar house” at 40th and Grand Avenue, that well-known Lovers’ Lane of South Minneapolis. But, indeed, it happened, and here’s how.

Emma, who, as you will not be surprised to discover as this story unfolds, has a more than passing interest in espionage, was taking the bus home from her classes at the University of Minnesota on Monday afternoon. She looked up when the bus stopped several blocks from our house, and saw my car parked on an unfamiliar side street. I have an um, rather distinctive vehicle—a 13-year old green VW Beetle covered with purple magnet polka dots – so she knew it was me. But why was I at that location at noon on a Monday, she mused? She pulled the cord immediately and hopped off the bus, launching her one-woman investigation.

At this point, the story fades out on Emma (Indulge me, if you will, by imaging that telescoping blackout from the Our Gang comedy era) and reveals – me. What was I doing at the moment when my daughter rushed off the bus? I was doing what I'm always doing when I’m not sleeping – working. 

My colleague and friend Peggy Zetah (What an artist!  Visit her website!) had just gotten a freelance gig and needed a writer. We’d agreed to meet at her house on Monday, as soon as we both finished our Tabata class at Blaisdell YMCA (Yes, I have friends who don’t live within ten blocks of me, but not many). So, at the moment Agent Fiala assigned herself to the Case of the Misplaced Mother, I was sitting with Peggy in her home office, going through photo archives and kicking around some headline ideas. We had just moved our work to the dining room table, papers spread everywhere, when my cell phone rang.

Emma: “Where are you right now?” (This is, sadly, the usual way she greets me, since the only time she calls is when she wants something and needs to determine how quickly I will be able to obey her command.)

Me: “I’m at 4014 Grand. Why? Do you need something? Are you okay?”

The phone went dead. “Is everything alright?” Peggy asked, seeing my expression.

“Emma wanted to know where I was …” I trailed off, wondering what was wrong.

We heard some thumps up the front stairs, followed by a knock on the door. There was Emma, filling up the doorway with her tiny, suspicious self. “What are you doing in this house?” she demanded. “I saw your car from the bus and I don’t know why you’re here.”

“I’m working,” I said, pointing to Peggy, too startled to say anything else. “Wait … what did you think I was doing?”

At this point, in a case of very bad timing, Emma’s eyes swung around and got an eyeful of Peggy’s husband, Greg, who had just walked into the living room. Greg is a rehabber who was home for the day, nursing a sprained hand (dog-walking, ice and April, the ultimate Minnesota wintry mix). Her eyes narrowed and I swear I heard her growl. This very kindly man raised both hands, one covered in an Ace bandage, one holding the sandwich he was eating for his lunch. First his wife’s very loud writer friend had come over to work all morning, now this. He looked like he wanted to go back outside and fall on some more ice.

I repeated my question: “Emma, what did you think I was doing?” but by this point, it was clear to everyone in the room what she had thought I was doing.

I had to wonder, has this kid taken a look at me lately? At the “Raccoon Collection by Max Factor” dark circles under my eyes? Or the way I have to walk down the stairs by leaning against the wall and sliding down on my shoulder, so my trick knee doesn’t give out? Has she noticed, I thought to myself, the limp? My capacity for intrigue-filled Monday afternoons … not so high at the moment, hon.

Clearly, Emma had thought otherwise. No one ever looks at their mother, right up until the moment, I suppose, when they’re standing in a stranger’s living room and suspecting her of adultery, a drug habit, a criminal record, and who knows what else. I saw Emma give me an actual once-over, as I stood there in Peggy’s dining room, freshly sweaty from Tabata, my hair boinging up in all directions, because I pull at it when I’m thinking. I saw her mouth form a perfect little “o,” and I could tell she was beginning to realize how misguided she had been.

Here is the great thing about my friend Peggy. She is unflappable. I mean, I have never seen her flaps. “Your mom and I have another half hour or so of work,” she said genially, somehow managing to clear the “J’accuse” stench from the air. “Have a seat and watch tv with Greg. You can do your homework.”

And so, in the way that sometimes happens when things are so strange it seems as if the Earth is going to stop spinning, everything shifted on its axis and started looking normal again. Emma sat down in the comfy chair and pulled out her French textbook. Peggy and I got back to work at the dining room table. Greg sat on the couch and ate his sandwich, then showed Emma a few of the new tricks he’s taught the puppy. Peggy and I wrapped up, talked about deadlines, and I left with one person more than had been in my party when I’d arrived, but everyone behaved as if that were perfectly normal, too.

It was on the car ride back to our house when I began to unravel how truly, truly creepy the whole thing had been. I tried, in my Very Calm Mommy voice, to ask Emma exactly what she’d been thinking and doing in the moments leading up to her arrival at my purported Love Nest. She recounted the story of how she’d flung herself out of the bus and begun running down Grand Avenue in hot pursuit of my parked car. “From the direction it was parked, I could deduce that you’d probably come from the Y. Plus, I saw your yoga mat. But your shoes were there and I thought that was suspicious. WHY didn’t you have your shoes with you?” (Note: the shoes in question are 10-year old Land’s End Inlet clogs that have definitely seen better days, not, in case that’s where you were heading with this, bright red kitten heels with black marabou feathers.)

“Because I was going to take my shoes into Peggy’s to keep my feet warm, after I took off my snow boots, but I forgot,” I said, starting to feel just a little bit uncomfortable. But wait, as we used to say in those corporate incentive trip videos, back in the day -- there’s more … much, much more.

“I figured you had your boots on,” she said, picking up steam now, “so I tracked the footprints from your car to the houses on the even side of the street. But then … “ and I swear I could hear a “dum dum dum” sound in the background, “they disappeared.”

“So what did you do next?” I asked, noticing that my voice was getting very, very, very quiet.

“I walked up to the first possible house and looked in the windows, but it was very messy. I knew you would never be in a house that messy.”

So you thought I’d be somewhere doing God Knows What with Who Knows Whom, but only tidily? I wanted to ask, but stopped myself. She still had a lot more to say.

“That’s when I decided to hit your car,” she told me, proudly.

I made a little squeak. I had run out of words.

“I decided to hit it so the alarm would go off and you’d be forced to run outside,” she chirped. “So I kicked it, and I threw my body against it, and I shoved it. It didn’t work, and a lot of cars were starting to slow down and stare at me.”

Really, I thought? Stare at a tiny Asian girl with no coat and a giant backpack, hurtling herself against an old polka-dotted Beetle? People these days must be starved for entertainment if they find that worth looking at. I realized that she was still talking and I picked up the story midstream … “ – because my cell phone was dead.”

“Wait,” I said, trying to piece it together. “Didn’t you call me?”

“I went into an acupuncture clinic on the corner and made me give them their phone.” Oh dear God, I thought, I bet that acupuncturist went out and threw herself on the ice, too, after you got done with her, Emma. I tried to imagine the havoc that my daughter could wreak with an actual badge and a pair of handcuffs, but I couldn’t bear it. I also wondered, briefly, what would have happened if I had been up to no good. I decided not to go down that particular line of thought, either. 

“So then you answered the phone and told me the address, and I proceeded to that house, and --” here she stopped for a triumphant bit of savoring, as if she had just guessed the room, weapon and murderer on the first dice roll in Clue – “the house was NOT messy.”

“Emma," I said, and I am not lying when I tell you this is the gist of a conversation I’ve had three times a week, minimum, with this person for the last 16 years or so. "Can I just ask you to think about how other people might have felt when this was happening? How would you feel if this had happened to you?”

She stopped talking, startled. “You mean, if you followed me to a friend’s house and snuck around and barged in?” She paused for a moment, as if she were actually mulling it over (I have never seen her mull before; first time for everything). “Oh, that would be stalking.”

I nodded my head vigorously, trying to get her on board the Empathy Train with me. “So you wouldn’t want to do that again, right? To me? Or to anyone on Earth? Because it might make them feel uncomfortable, or it might be embarrassing? Or just, you know, creepy?”

“Can’t promise that,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I think I’m pretty good at this stuff, so I’m leaving my options open.” She flung back that long curtain of shiny black hair, this girl who’d had exactly three bristles on top of her tiny head the day she was handed into my arms.

Later that afternoon, I was back at home, guess what, working. Emma appeared in the doorway of my office, ready to argue her case, the way this kid has argued hundreds of thousands of cases before me over the years -- wearing down me, the judge, to the nub I am today. 

“I talked with Dad,” she declared. “And he says that, while my actions might, in fact, be considered creepy by some, they could also be viewed as resourceful. So I’m going with that,” she told me. “I’m resourceful.”

I looked up from my computer and right into her shiny, shiny eyes.

Oh honey, I thought. You certainly are.


  1. That is really, really sweet. She was looking out for you! Many people her age would likely have snuck off into their own version of kitten heels taking advantage of the fact that their parents were occupied--time to party! It takes passion to stalk.

  2. If, God forbid, you had needed rescuing, this wouldn't seem creepy at all. (I've never smoked pot either. But I'm fairly certain I've been stalked. Perhaps there's a correlation.)