This was the second road trip we'd done. The first was when she was nine and we drove to a horse show in Lexington, Kentucky. She was just tall enough to ride in the front seat for the first time, and for the first 6 hours in the car, all she talked about - and I mean every single conversation - was about road kill.
It hadn't occurred to me before that very moment that as a little girl in the backseat, she had never been able to see dead animals laying by the side of the road. It was quite the learning curve. She was adamant that one of the animals we saw with its feet up in the air was an anteater, and I didn't disagree. Our relatives mocked us when we put it in the annual Christmas letter, but I didn't care. It was one of those mother/daughter memories that I wasn't willing to give up.
Five years later, and roadkill didn't come up once in our conversation while on the road to a wild horse ranch in South Dakota this week. In fact, much didn't come up at all. She spent the first six hours texting her friends on her cell phone while we listened to some CDs she had made for the trip -- I suffered through 360 minutes of screaming teen angst from bands I've never heard of -- because I was looking for a mother/daughter bond and told her I didn't want her listening to her iPod the whole trip.
Ten hours later and with me in dire need of a Mountain Dew and ear plugs, we pulled into a hotel in Mitchell, South Dakota. After checking into our room, I was talked into going down to the indoor pool which featured a water slide. Not being overly coordinated, I immediately proceeded to fall backwards down the steps to the kiddie pool (I've got the road rash to prove it), and felt a little love when my daughter came to check on me when it seemed I was trapped under 8 inches of water. She assured me no one had seen me, and very valiantly tried not to laugh, until we both started giggling and she helped me up.
Moments later, a family with two teenagers - the key here being one was a boy - entered the pool and I promptly got ditched. Before I knew it, the little girl who just a few months ago, made me order for her at restaurants because she was too shy to talk to the waitress, was flipping her hair back, flashing a million dollar smile, and talking a mile a minute with kids she just met about school, vacations and lame parents.
As I stood by the side of the pool, watching my daughter flirt and make new friends, I realized that while every parent looks forward to seeing their child grow up, my daughter was already there. I felt like I was watching an episode of The Young and the Restless where one day Victor & Nikki give birth to a cute little baby in a pink blanket, and the next day, a deep-voiced narrator breaks into the scene with, "The role of Victoria Newman is now being played by Heather Tom," and a beautiful, teenage girl walks into the scene calling Victor and Nikki "mom and dad." You're left wondering, wow - I wonder how that happened.
I never had a chance to go on a mother/daughter trip with my mom because a) we lived on a farm and we didn't take any trips that didn't involve going to the sale barn or grocery store, and b) my mom was always busy cooking, cleaning, farming, and raising a family. She also got sick when I was in sixth grade and died after a long illness when I was 21. My best memories of quality mother/daughter time were when she took me to all three of the Star Wars movies (my mother was a closet Trekkie and sci-fi fan), and I fell in love with the Ewoks in The Empire Strikes Back. I also remember her taking me to Ghostbusters at the Avalon Theater in Platteville, and we bought popcorn that I promptly threw up in the air in fright when the Gargoyles came alive.
Overall, as mother/daughter trips go, this one with my daughter has been a good one. When she hasn't been busy texting, talking to or scouting out cute boys, I've learned the following:
1. Feeding wild burros can be a bonding moment. There's nothing like feeding wild - and when I say wild - I mean very tame - burros fig newtons while driving the wildlife loop at Custer State Park. It takes some serious mother/daughter coordination to feed and then fend off five burros while running to your car at the same time.
2. My daughter will probably never date a biker. After hanging out with 500,000 bikers in the Black Hills during Sturgis week, I think we have successfully determined that most bikers are rude, loud and annoying. I'm sure there are some very lovely leather-wearing bikers out there, but I didn't meet any near Sturgis, and after one who was old enough to be my father hit on my daughter, she was easily creeped out enough for a lifetime. We ran away quickly.
3. My daughter thinks I'm funny. I learned this while reading the place mat at the Chinese restaurant in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and my Year of the Rat said I was "charming, imaginative and generous." I was feeling pretty good about this description until my daughter chimed in with "That's weird. I wouldn't use any of those three words to describe you." After I threw her a dirty look, she chimed in with, "But you are pretty funny."
4. I really like my daughter and I think she may actually like me. We managed to hang out for six days without getting into a serious argument, we had fun together, we got lost together, and we found our way together. My daughter is becoming a beautiful, thoughtful young woman and I am so proud to be her mom.