My husband and our daughter are fighting again. This latest installment of the fight has been going on for three days but they have engaged in an ongoing battle since she was old enough to have an opinion. Our daughter has many opinions.
I concentrate on chopping onions and slicing tomatoes for the salad. The table is set, Byron, our three year old, is in his booster chair wearing a bib. Camille, who is eight and Mommy's Little Helper, is carefully folding the napkins at the dining room table and keeping a nervous eye on the combatants. Ten-year-old Marcus has vanished.
"You're afraid of being alive!" Maya screams, her hands on her narrow hips, and all the outrage of her thirteen years of life burning in her bright cheeks.
"You are so boring!"
My husband, his face also red, stares at her. He has never understood his first-born child. "What does that have to do with anything?" he asks. Only I can hear the hurt in his voice.
"You're jealous," Maya spits. "I'm young and you're old and you've never done one interesting thing in your whole stupid life so you don't want me to have fun either."
We've heard this complaint before. It is her favorite explanation for why her father and I are so impossible to get along with. She is young, we are old. She wants to have fun, we are stuffy old bores who stand in her way.
My husband turns his back and walks out of the room.
"Maybe so," he says, "but you're still not going to Mardi Gras with your friends." I hear the front door slam. He will be outside on the porch trying to calm down, sneaking one of the cigarettes he is supposed to have quit but which I know are still hidden on a rafter under the porch roof. My husband cannot bear these fights. He will be upset for hours but neither will he change his mind.
"Mo-o-o-m!" Maya pleads.
"You heard your father," I say keeping my eyes on the tomatoes.
"YOU went to Mardi Gras!" she says.
"I was eighteen," I say. "Not thirteen."
Maya flings herself into a chair. "That was like a million years ago! It's different now! Girls are more mature at thirteen than they were back then."
"You act like this and then you tell me you are more mature?" I turn and stare at her. She is huddled on the chair in the corner by the door, slender arms and legs crossed, fury and outrage clouding her lovely face where the cuteness of the child she once was is transforming daily into the beauty of the woman she will one day be.
"Listen, my darling daughter, you are not going to New Orleans with a bunch of girls I don't care whose older sister will be going along. You are too young and that is that."
"I HATE you!" she screams again, "You're both old and boring and stupid." She runs out of the room, caroms down the hallway, and slams the bathroom door.
"She's just mean, Mommy," Camille says watching me with her big, worried eyes. Eyes made too wary by too many scenes like this. "Don't listen to her."
"It's okay, my angel," I tell her cupping her soft little chin in my hand and bending down to kiss her silken cheeks, "she's just being a teenager. She'll grow out of it."
"I hope I'm never like that," Camille says.
I sigh. "I was like that too when I was her age," I say. And I was.
My mother still tells me that she was too easy on me. Even after all these years, and four grandchildren whom she dearly loves, she never misses an opportunity to tell me I was too wild. She still dredges up what might have happened. How lucky I was not to end up in a gutter somewhere. When I complain to her about Maya's temperamental behavior she laughs and says, "It's the fulfillment of The Mother's Curse: Someday I hope you have a child who acts just like you do.'"
"I was a lot older," I respond.
"You were always too big for your britches," she claims.
I was eighteen when I ran away. She's never let me forget that.