Published on November 21st, 2022 | by Robin Silbergleid


Mostly Functioning

We get in the car at 8:30 am for the drive across town to the high school, during which the teen informs me they have only fifty days left before graduation. The literal day before the semester started they decided to change their schedule in order to fit an extra math class in order to graduate early (gone the art class and the orchestra class and the AP psychology and basically anything fun that they had spent the past three years prioritizing, saying they didn’t “have room” in their schedule for practical things like PE and health) because it seems they can’t wait to be an adult and go to college and have an actual job, although they have not yet taken driver’s ed; fifty days of me driving and cajoling and asking “have you finished the essay/taken the test/turned in the form;” fifty days of me trying to cram in all that this child needs to know, should have already learned, but somehow I have raised a semi-adult person who is EMS-certified and capable of doing a twelve-hour shift on an ambulance but can’t manage to get their used La Croix can into the recycling bin or change their sheets or empty the cat box without being reminded at least sixteen times, ADHD tendency and all that. From one angle this teenaged person who knows CPR and how to play three musical instruments and take apart a bicycle to repaint it blue for the brother who tags along behind them amazes me, leaves me wondering how the six-pound-twelve-ounce infant I was handed in the hospital seventeen years and eight months ago has turned into this whipsmart young adult and, from another, all I can see is my own failure. What do they call that? The potted plant theory of parenting? Mostly if you give a little bit of water and sunlight they come out okay, except if they are rare orchids and need ice cubes doled out in precise amounts? What if my kid is an orchid? What if they are not ready to self-water? Because I want to fill the rest of this five-minute drive with something other than swirling thoughts of parental incompetence, I proceed to ask if the teen will do their presentation in class today, the presentation on the movie that is apparently so bad it is good, a cult classic, and when I ask what they will talk about they just repeat that the film is “disruptive,” and I say okay, but what does that mean, and they get flustered and can’t say anything to me now but still they told me before that the podcast is fifteen minutes long, which is really not long enough to say everything they want to say about this movie, but apparently now I only get one word. Was it wrong to ask about the presentation? Is there a better conversational strategy for time killing and bonding on the way to school? I keep my sigh to myself. We have arrived. Parked in the circle drive, the teen takes a last bite of the bagel with cream cheese and Trader Joe’s everything-but-the-bagel seasoning that I prepared for them and rifles through their backpack to find the KF94 mask (black) that they wear with the rest of their black ensemble (black cargo pants, black t-shirt, black hoodie, black socks, black Doc Martens and, because I am the one who does the laundry and also buys the clothes, I assume underneath it all, black undergarments). I tell the teen not to forget the bagel, both hating myself a little for the nagging and also praising myself for mentally withholding this information on so many other mornings during which the teen places the bagel on the dashboard, where it leaves crumbs and little smears of cream cheese that I clean up, without their knowledge. When the teen gathers their things, shifts the backpack to their back, mumbles a goodbye (no thank you), I wonder what they are actually thinking about right now, on the cusp of both second hour algebra and adulthood, wonder if they are happy-ish, at least considering they will graduate during a global pandemic, wonder if I have raised a person who can go out in the world and be a mostly functioning adult. I tell them have a good day honey, tell them I’ll meet them in the parking lot for pickup at 8:30 tonight. I have forty nine more times to practice watching them walk away.

Cover photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash.

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About the Author

Robin Silbergleid is the author of The Baby Book and the memoir Texas Girl, as well as several chapbooks, most recently In the Cubiculum Nocturnum (Dancing Girl Press). She is co-editor of Infertilities, A Curation, forthcoming from Wayne State University Press, and collaborates with The ART of Infertility on reproductive education and advocacy. Born and raised in the Midwest, she currently lives in East Lansing, Michigan, where she is Professor of English at Michigan State University.

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