Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Where Angels Fear to Tread (not about the book) (09/08/11)
TITLE: My Burning Eyes
By Margaret McKinney
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Teenagers should come with an instruction manual.
Normal children grow into these wily creatures nearly overnight, and we, defenseless parents, are unprepared. My twelve-year-old daughter is suddenly thirteen, and has secrets. She writes her secrets with alarming frequency in a small notebook. I ask her, casually, what could possibly occupy her thoughts so readily as to draw her to that little book so often – she carries it with her constantly, writes in it almost continuously. Whatever innerworkings of her mind that might be shared with me are jotted down in a fifty-nine-cent notebook from Target.
This puzzles me. She is thirteen, not twenty-three. Surely eighth grade cannot carry so heavy a load as to require such cerebral activity. And then I recall being thirteen, specifically the emotional minefield that was my eighth-grade-year, and I relent with a shrug. Surely God holds her in the palm of His hand, as He does the rest of us. And yet, I can’t help but peek into His palm at times to see what is going on.
She is gone one Saturday, to spend the night with a friend. Knowing she won’t return until the next day, I embark on the near-impossible task of cleaning her room. This, too, is new territory: the piles of clothes strewn about, the cryptic sayings scrawled on the whiteboard, a dozen Converse sneakers in rainbow colors crammed beneath the bed. There are papers scattered everywhere I look, stashed in books, littering the floor, even overflowing the waste basket. I sigh in exasperation, for that is what mothers do in the face of such a mountain of mess. We love our children, we wish they were cleaner, but we endure.
I bend low to sweep the detritus from the space between the bed and dresser, stepping back to avoid the mountain of books that rain down on my feet. My eyes are drawn to the small, spiral-bound wonder that sits atop the pile – the notebook.
Hands shaking, I retrieve it from the mound; turn it over in my hands. Butterflies encase my stomach as if I was the thirteen-year-old. My eyes are itching, practically burning to see what’s inside. The usual moral arguments sweep through my mind, volleying back and forth like a tennis ball: do I have the right to read her private thoughts? I should have some rights as her mother, shouldn’t I? And yet, children should have a place of privacy in which to stow their feelings. But what if her feelings are a danger to her? She should be able to trust me, her mother. But part of my role as her mother is to protect her, isn’t it?
There is no ready answer, and yet the notebook still sits in my hands. My knees knock together and I feel exposed. I walk to her door and close it, turning the lock like a final proclamation. Already my guilt sits like a hard knot in my stomach. I mutter a prayer for God’s direction, but I don’t really mean it. My curiosity will win this battle, and it will be a sordid victory, I am sure.
Brushing clothes from the bed, I sit and draw a deep breath. It is silly, how much I am shaking, as if this were a matter of life and death and not a silly notebook. I run a hesitant finger down the red cardboard cover, blank, not even inscribed with my daughter’s name in glittery markers. I open the cover and begin to read.
I am undone at what I see scrawled on the pages, and I mourn the loss of ignorance, of hers and my own.
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