By Rochelle Riley
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Sometimes things sneak up on you. You don't notice them until, well, you do. And then you wonder how you missed them.
It happens with weight gain. It happens with gray hair. It happens with love. And it happens with "the meaningful distance."
If you're the parent of a teenager, you know what I'm talking about. If you're not a parent, you may have seen it: a parent walking along having a conversation with a child who's about 3 feet away.
I first noticed it at the mall. I turned to my daughter to ask whether she liked the sweater on display. But she wasn't beside me. She was about 4 feet behind.
No apparent cause
It didn't register, but as I continued walking, I realized that she wasn't ever beside me. This had begun to happen when I took her out with her friends. They walked in a group while I followed along to provide funds. I had gone from being the cool mom to being the driver whose presence was no longer needed once we reached our destination.
I had expected that. You can't have a conversation about boys if you're walking along with your mom.
But the solo walk was new; that's what was happening at the mall.
Initially, I wondered whether I was embarrassing to her. It couldn't be my attire, because it happened even when I wasn't wearing my shopping uniform: black sweat pants, a plaid work shirt and cargo boots (unless we are at Somerset).
It wasn't body odor. I did the underarm sniff once, right in front of Casual Corner, which horrified her almost as much as just standing too close.
And it was happening with my friends and their daughters as well. Their kids were with them, but not with them. They, like me, were feeling a little left out, a little shunned.
When I realized what was going on, it hurt, but only a little. I handle these transitions better than I used to. This meaningful distance was the bittersweet arrival of independence, which meant you don't go with your mom to the movies anymore, you're too old for a baby-sitter and too cool for a chaperone and you'd rather shop alone than be escorted by a parent like you're, say, 12.
What it meant most for me is that soon my daughter will be going to the mall alone, and I may or may not hear about how much fun it was.
It means that those fun things we used to do are now the province of friends, and eventually boyfriends. And I'll just get the highlight reel.
It means that I'm becoming the person who writes the checks and signs the permission slips, and I'll know only second-hand what I'm paying for. It means someone else may hear about the first kiss first.
But that's OK, as long as I hear about the kiss eventually.
And it's OK that I'm the one who enters a store, pulls a few things I like and then asks the clerk to show them to the next girl to come in. It's OK as long as I get a big "Thanks, Mom" and a hug when we get back to the car.
It is as it should be. I'm entering the hardest part of a parent's evolution. My daughter's life is becoming less a first-hand experience for me than a second-hand review.
But as long as I'm not totally left out, I can handle the "meaningful distance."
© 2004, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.