Her grades were not terrible, but also not up to her usual high standards, and she scowled every time we asked if there was anything we could do to help.
“You wouldn’t understand!” she said. “Middle school is horrible!”
Among the various and sundry gifts that puberty brings, surely one of the most charming is the sheer number of exclamation marks that begin to populate the victim’s dialogue. Everything is suddenly emphatic! Everything!! Throw in a splash of sarcasm and you have a deliciously bitter teen angst cocktail! Yum!!
We had to do something, so we turned to that tried and true method that nurturing, thoughtful parents have been using for ages: we bribed her. She had been pestering us about getting a cat — no, wait, maybe “pestering” isn’t the right word. “Harass” is better, or maybe “hector.” Anyway, as sixth grade drew to a merciful close, we struck a deal regarding seventh grade. If she made straight A’s, she would get her cat.
“And it has to be a girl cat!” she said. “Because I am sick of all the boys around here! A girl cat would make it a fair fight!”
I am proud to report that she approached seventh grade with an entirely transformed attitude, and even on the tougher days, she kept her eyes on the prize, or should I say, her mitten on the kitten. She attended to her homework with impressive diligence, and her grades improved dramatically.
When the time came to cash in, I was as good as my word. Within days of getting that last grade report, she and her mother were off to fetch a cute little white piece of fluff and fangs that they decided to name Lucinda Maria Consuelo, or “Lucy” for short (and Lucinda when she is in trouble for knocking stuff off tables and windowsills, an activity that cats particularly enjoy).
Of course, my daughter was delighted to have another girl in the house, just as she expected to be. The two of them have been inseparable for months now, running amok all over the house, taking hundreds of selfies and knocking stuff off of tables and windowsills everywhere they roam. “Besties,” I believe they call it.
“She’s awesome!” my daughter exclaims from time to time, just in case we were wondering. “My Lucinda!”
As might be expected, the time came when Lucinda begin yowling to go outside more and more often, possessed of that certain familiar “restlessness” that can mean only one thing. Time for a trip to the vet.
“Nooooooo!!!!” my daughter yelped. “She is going to hate me! She is going to sit around staring at me all the time!”
Then again, the constant yowling was driving her crazy, too, so she finally relented and the appointment was made. When the day arrived, my wife transported Lucinda to the facility, and a few hours later she sent me an ominous text. I called her as soon as I got it.
“Are you ready for this?” she asked. “Lucy is a boy! A boy! What are we going to tell our daughter? ARE we going to tell our daughter? She is going to be crushed! Is there any reason that she needs to know?”
I pictured our daughter finding some out years down the road that her childhood bestie was actually a boy — always had been — and $100,000 in therapy bills flashed before my eyes.
“We must tell her,” I said. “We must tell her that Lucy is not actually a good girl after all, but is rather a fine young man.”
“You think this is funny, don’t you?” said my wife.
“I think it is funny that every time ESPN is on, Lucy jumps up on the dresser and watches with rapt attention, and nobody saw this coming,” I said, suddenly realizing that I was stereotyping my daughter’s cat.
That night, we told her, and she took it far better than we expected. We are still trying to sort out what to call him/her, and obviously working on pronouns as well. My son wants to call him “Chuck,” but that is mostly to antagonize his sister, an activity that he enjoys as much as “Chuck” enjoys knocking stuff off of tables and windowsills.
“Her name is not ‘Chuck’!” yells my daughter. “I mean his name is not Chuck! It’s Lucy! I mean …”
It is going to be an interesting summer.