it starts with ACCIDENT. At the suggestion of a friend, I gave my 15-year-old the song “If You’re Feeling Sinister” by Belle and Sebastian.
“Cool song,” she texted back. “I like it.” It’s only five words, but it’s the most she’s deliberately communicated to me in months.
Over the past few years, my once bubbly daughter has grown sullen, with anger and resentment swirling around her. There appear to be several factors contributing to this. Covid-19 has undoubtedly played a major role in her darkness, depriving her of high school graduation, prom, and the busy social life that fostered her outgoing personality. But her friends also suffered, I don’t know anyone who hid in their room and stopped talking to their parents. Somehow, I became the enemy, and nothing seemed to bridge the widening gap between us.
We have been a team for many years. A single mom, I’ve been relying on her and she’s relying on me more than usual in a mother-daughter relationship. But everything has changed.
“I’m trying to understand you,” I told her one day, being careful not to make eye contact with her.
“I just don’t want you to know me anymore,” she replied. “I don’t even know myself!”
She was right, of course. If she doesn’t know herself, how can I possibly know her? I am well aware that our unusual intimacy is actually part of the problem. She needs to leave me, but how can she do that when I’m trying to prop her up? We need a new way to connect.
Hours after her texting, I could hear Belle and Sebastian playing on a loop, and she came out of the room to sit down for lunch with her sister and me for the first time in weeks. I tried to interact with her and asked a few probing questions: How is her science project going, and where is her best friend going to camp this summer? It soon became clear that I was mistaken. She rushed back to her room, slamming the door behind her.
As a psychologist, I communicate in words—I feel that communicating through music is beyond my depth. So, I called my friend Shannon Lorraine, the former musician of the Seattle band Witholders.
“Try this,” she says, “‘Seaplane’ at the Neutral Milk Hotel. But don’t get too excited when she expresses interest. Cool fun.”
I sent the song to my daughter and resisted the urge to follow up with words. This time, she came out of the room for a few hours. I called Shannon and told her, “I think you’re a snake charmer. Tell me what to do next.”
She continued to recommend songs, and the cloud around us gradually dissipated a little. But words remain elusive.
Eventually, Shannon ran out of recommendation letters. For a while, I let Spotify take over and it offered songs from bands I had never heard of: The Postal Service, Françoise Hardy, Beirut. But if I wanted to have a relationship with my daughter, I realized I couldn’t rely on algorithms, so I started making my own recommendations: Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, The Cure, and my childhood favorite, Malvina Reynolds. These are little snippets of my past that I hope words can’t seem to connect us.