SHE TURNED 16 the other day, and I can hardly spit out the words. Sixteen. As in 16 candles. As in sweet (and sour) 16. As in the .416 (or so) batting average she racked up for her school softball team. As in the 16 bucks I gave her for the movies. As in the 16 times I told her to clean her room, damn it. Or else.
"I will, Dad."
"I have to go to Olivia's first."
"Then you're going to clean your room."
"That wasn't a question."
Oh, yeah, she's 16 all right. She's a "Zits" cartoon, a John Hughes movie. She wears humongous sunglasses that fit her like some sort of CHP visor. And strappy open-toed sandals made by an overpaid, oversexed Italian.
Sixteen years later, she's 16, and she eats and eats and eats and eats. She eats 16 times a day, if you're counting, which you're probably not. But if you are, she eats 16 times a day.
At breakfast, she eats eggs and granola and pancakes and crepes. That's four meals right there.
"Mom, is there more?" she asks.
For lunch, she eats a sandwich and yogurt and grapes and cookies. After school, she'll eat a little something, maybe a pizza or a triple-triple from the hamburger emporium down the block. It all goes off into the infinity that is a teenager's mouth, the ultimate black hole. Still, she's skinny as a $5 bill. She has the metabolism of a Ferrari.
"Hey Dad, wanna hear my Josh Groban impression?" she asks.
"You lift me up, so I can stand on mountains
" she quavers like Katharine Hepburn, then laughs. "You lift me up
She's 16 and hates Big Government and Big Oil but isn't sure who her senators are. She has strong opinions on the war in Afghanistan and hybrid cars. She's downloaded about 10,000 songs, three of which she really likes. She sneaks onto MySpace when I'm not looking. Her computer is her mirror.
She's 16, and I find her in the kitchen one night holding an ice cube against an ear lobe. I suspect some sort of ear piercing issue. Or maybe her brain is overheating.
"Ice cube?" I ask.
"No, Dad, it's a trombone," she says.
I suspect she is smarter than me — thank God — and better looking. But now she's funnier too, and I won't put up with that, I just won't. She can have all the other stuff — the hair that shimmers like wet paint, the good grades, the charisma, the friends — but I get dibs on wit and deprecation. Ouch, there she goes again with some one-liner. Sixteen one-liners. I blame her mother.
It's just not fair. If she gets to be 16, why doesn't everybody get to be 16? Why couldn't the whole world be 16 for just one day? Maybe then I could understand her and her wise-guy friends.
Maybe I'd understand those text messages she likes to send, a form of communication just slightly less useful for me than the Pony Express. I am as adept at text messaging as I am at plucking a banjo. Just to give you an idea, I tap out the letters one at a time, with my index finger and sometimes my nose.
My teenage daughter, meanwhile, can do virtually anything with a cellphone. In five seconds, she could type in "War and Peace." In 10 seconds, she could design a nuclear reactor with just her thumbs.
"Yo D, wuz up?" she text messages me at work.
"Why aren't you in class?" I reply.
"I am," she says.
Ugh. She's 16, all right.
At 16, she's reading "The Catcher in the Rye" for English class and wondering what all the fuss is. She knows lots of Holdens. Teen angst? Big deal, dude. Whatever.
At 16, she gets most of her news from shiny magazines that reek of perfume and cover the heck out of senior prom. Her favorite journalist is Bill Maher.
"Who are you again?"
"Oh. That's funny," she says.
Yep, the little girl is 16. It happened in a hiccup, a heartbeat, the blink of an eye. I feel like the odd duck in her life, the piece that doesn't fit. Like when Baryshnikov showed up on "Sex and the City," so out of place he seemed an apparition.
But I won't let her intimidate me, I won't. After all, 16 is only 8 twice over. Or 4 times 4.
She's 16 and I remember when she just turned 4. Like it was yesterday.
Chris Erskine can be reached at email@example.com. For more columns, see latimes.com/erskine.
MAN OF THE HOUSE BY CHRIS ERSKINE
She's sweet 16 and smart as a whip. Ouch.
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