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How 'Jeopardy' Saved My Relationship With My Daughter

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We have certain patterns we follow, like it or not. Night after night, day after day, we fall into our patterns of doing and being. In our house the patterns look a lot like water collecting at the edges. We go into our respective corners and we tend to tune one another out. We hibernate and we regroup. I do it, my husband does it and now my daughter has begun.

Over the course of this year, my daughter, a bright and shiny 11-year-old, began once again to transform. She was becoming a tween and in doing so, she was all at once building and setting sail on her raft, bidding us farewell. Emotionally, she was often miles away and my smoke signals were going wholly unnoticed. I stood on the shore, waving my arms, exhausted. I ached for communication, to know that she was hearing me, to hear her. Often, she sat down at dinner, crouched over a book, replying in clipped, one-word answers. Her door was exclusively closed for privacy in the evening. Even her TV watching had become private. “Get out,” she’d say when we poked our heads in. I missed her. I felt like I was racing across ice, slipping and falling sideways with every move I made as I parented. Where had the time gone? How did we get here? And how did it happen so quickly?

We’d been through a lot together. My own battle with anxiety and my daughter’s experiences with trichotillomania, they had all woven us together intricately. We recognized each other. I was awed by her strength. Feeling my daughter drift away left me out of synch, even though I recognized it as par for the course. She was, simply, growing up. I had to let her feel her space.

Then, I noticed it. I was dipping into my own guilty pleasure, watching the Real Housewives of Wherever while everyone was asleep, when I saw it scrolling through the DVR. “Jeopardy.” She was watching “Jeopardy”? I had loved the show as a kid and it brought me back. It felt like blinking lifeline, a raft I could jump aboard to reach her. The next night, I knocked on the door to the den after hearing the familiar opening, “Can I join you?” I said, pointing at the TV. “Sure” she said, confused. “You like ‘Jeopardy’?” And so began our new nightly pattern, our 7:30 date. One I looked forward to.

We became obsessed. We laughed, we rooted for contestants and loved it when anyone asked for a “true Daily Double.” We were invested. I felt myself as I paddled, getting closer to the island where she had set up camp. She was beginning to see me, and I could see her. The gap seemed smaller and we were slowly drifting away from our corners. We evaluated the categories; Science was always a winner for her, TV and Film, winners for me. I knew she was smart, but she got to show it off and we’d impress and surprise each other as we took chances, jogged our memories and came up with the right answers (sorry, Questions).

“Meet her on her ground.” It was a refrain I’d heard for years and tried, but this, this, could actually be her ground I thought. I dug in deeper. Having recovered from trichotillomania, my daughter had found lots of ways to redirect her desire to pull at her hair. One of her favorites was putting a little glue on her hand, letting it dry and then picking it off. I decided to give it a try and she was excited, like I was trying on her favorite shirt, and finding that it fit. We sat there, night after night with our glue and our “Jeopardy” and began to recognize each other, once again. We were both trying to stay grounded. I was on this island, I began to make myself comfortable.

As life does, the tide shifted and I’d find myself suddenly thrown off. “I need some time to myself,” she’d tell me. I was back in the water, watching her from afar, some days she was happy, others she had her knees pulled in closely, her head hanging low. She had come so far, I reminded myself, and it was a journey we had taken together. I couldn’t manage her emotions, just as I couldn’t manage her trich, and she had found her own strength battling both. I had also found mine.

Eventually, we would begin again, and just as quickly, she would send me away once again. It would become another one of our patterns, for better or worse. The swim to her, while sometimes exhausting, was making me stronger. While the tide continued to shift, I knew I could always find my way back. And while I despised the distance between us, it somehow brings us closer when I manage to find myself back by her side, breathlessly trying to keep pace.

Originally published: October 1, 2016
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