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Teenage daughters are good con artists

(While emptying an old tool box, I found a newspaper padding the bottom. It contained the following column, which I thought I had lost when my computer crashed in 1992.)

We're into teenage daughters, clothes and cars in an overpowering way at my house. Just-turned-16, as she moves about the house and through her chores, assumes a pace that only a mother turtle could love. But let someone be looking out the window and say: "Look at that hot car!" Then, hormones flush her cheeks, adrenaline floods her muscles, her legs turn into rockets, and she streaks over to the window where she says: "Hey! Check it out, man!"

"Totally unreal!"

Yet the third and youngest sister, 12: "Oooooo. He's cute." (At 12? Ahhhh please no.)

14 says: "Get a life. Men are pigs!" I like 14. A dad could stay sane an extra long time with a daughter who holds firm to that thinking.

Somebody, along in here, usually pipes in with: "CHILL OUT!" or some such teenspeak. The "total" car has passed on by, and they have only each other once again. For those of you who either don't know, or have forgotten, or have a well-developed case of protective amnesia, sisters are sometimes unthrilled with each other. For about 23 hours a day.

Each of them is convinced that they were individually placed upon this earth in this particular household with this dismaying set of sister-things--there are three sisters in this house--for the express purpose of wearing as many of the others' favorite pieces of clothing as is humanly possible. Mornings around here come like a combination fashion show and the trading pit of the wall street stock exchange.

Sisters come up out of the basement laundry room, waving articles of clothing before them like Vikings used to wave battle shields. When this happens, almost always the waver is upset, and is shrieking something like: "Whoworethisandleftitinthemiddleofthefloorandiwantedtowearitnowican't.....!!!!!"

There's more. You get the idea. Pure anguish, teenage style.

Sometimes, though, the waver comes up the stairs wearing subservience like a serf before her queen. When that happens, they're also waving clothing, but this time they're waving it more as a flag of truce than as a flag of battle. Ah, yes. They've come to parley a trade, and that requires an entirely different personality front. Instead of confrontation and exclamation, they're into charm and cunning.

At these moments, I swear there's a con man running a flim-flam school in the basement, that's how good these Young Girls can be.

"Whose is this?" the waver will peep in her most meek and humble fashion, holding up an article of clothing.

No one even turns around to look. The response to a question this dumb is always one and only one thing. Without even seeing which item of clothing is in question, the Other Two always say: "Mine!" "Mine!" "No way!" "It's mine!" "I wore it last!" (As if that really matters, but it's becoming readily apparent that possession truly is nine tenths of the law.)

The waver then must reveal part of her poker hand, but, not tooooo much. After all, she's already acting like she likes these fellow sister-things. Enough is enough, usually, with that. But this morning, she opens with the slave gambit: "I'll wash dishes on your day if I can wear this to the dance-school-town-etc."

And then hard ball begins.

"Yeah? You still haven't washed the dishes for the time I let you wear my best stockings." Then comes the beggars stock reply:

"Really! What makes you think they were yours. Mom said I could wear them." Good counter.

The psychology of this manner of interaction escapes me. I'm not certain I understand it. But it's good. Very good.

With the patience of one to the trading pit born, the sister-thing owning the clothing item replies, with the poker face of a river boat gambler: "When did you ever ask Mom? Let's go ask her." And then she makes a great fake at going to ask Mom.

Mom's in the other room. She has a headache. The first person who asks her anything will return missing her head clear down to the ankles.

Not knowing that Mom is indisposed, the sister-waver on the stairs falters, and her battle is lost.

For today.