How Fifty Talks to Thirteen

I took a dear friend, V, to the movies today. I’ve known her for five years, and we always have a good time. At least, I do. I sometimes wonder what she’s thinking while we’re carrying on a conversation. V is going-on-fourteen. I am going-on-fifty.

The fact she cares to spend time with me at all is a wonder. I am quite old compared to her other friends. The first time we went somewhere together, V was eight, and her dad – my co-worker – and I were at a conference in Washington, D.C. I’d seen all the attractions on the Mall, and now I was dying to visit the National Zoo. My young friend-to-be had made the trip with her father, and she had nothing to do while Dad was in meetings. So I volunteered to take her along while I skipped out of the conference for a day at the zoo.

I had the privilege of sharing V’s first zoo experience. I saw her take her first up-close look at living, breathing giraffes. Neither of us wanted to leave the giraffe house. Then we pressed our noses against the glass and could almost smell the gorilla sleeping on the other side, just inches away. In the small-animal house, V spied an animal she had never heard of and couldn’t wait to ask her dad if they could keep it as a pet. Although it rained on us and we got cold and wet, she fell in love with zoos, and I fell in love with her.

After D.C., we developed a go-to-the-movies type of friendship. It gave us something to do and a way to connect, since we both also love movies. Neither of us is particularly talkative, so keeping a conversation going became a challenge for me. Having a movie to talk about helped.

Okay, so talking to an eight-year-old wasn’t a major challenge. Back then, I could bring up silly topics or discuss just about anything and not worry that she would think less of me. I knew she had a dog and a couple of cats, and those were always subjects that got her going. According to her dad, she was a bit in awe of me at first, though I don’t know why. Probably just because I was so much older and taking an interest in her. When I told her dad how comfortably we talked together, he was surprised. It wasn’t typical for her to say much to adults.

Last spring when we saw a movie together, I looked over at her and realized how she had changed. I asked her if anyone ever told her she was becoming beautiful. She said only her parents. That’s what I figured. She probably had no concept of the gift God had given her, and yes, I realize it isn’t healthy to emphasize physical beauty over a good and godly personality. Still, I told her what I thought: the little girl I used to know has grown into a lovely young woman.

She also had grown into a teenager. They have a reputation for being notoriously difficult to communicate with, so I didn’t know quite what we would talk about today, or if it would be awkward. I had planned more time for talk before and after the movie, because I felt strongly that if I wanted to stay in her life, we needed to develop a deeper friendship. It wouldn’t work anymore to just chat for a few minutes on the way there and the way home.

Besides, our habit of going to kids’ movies had developed a flaw: at thirteen, she was more interested in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants II than in Kung Fu Panda, but the “Sisterhood” type of movie wasn’t G-rated enough to be acceptable fare. She was caught between not wanting to be seen at children’s movies and not wanting to see the references to sex, drugs, and alcohol that creep into PG-13 flicks.

So I planned for us to hang out at Pig Out in the Park. We would listen to bands, eat, and talk. That plan fell through with the rain and winds that blew in this morning. Neither of us wanted to be out in that weather. We ended up going to Wall-E downtown. Yes, it was a kids’ movie, but that didn’t seem to matter to her this time.

Before and after the movie, we talked about anything and everything. The key, I found, was in asking V about herself and her experiences and sharing just a little about my experiences, when she seemed interested. Everybody loves to talk about themselves; this quiet girl was eager to answer my questions. From the basic questions about the upcoming school year and how her pets were doing, we went on to discuss the bravest thing she has done: rappelling off a 72-foot platform. That led to a discussion of how she is overcoming her fears. She is as afraid of roller coasters as I am, but she still rides them. She has my admiration!

I asked her about her plans for the future. Her older brother is already looking toward college; she can’t see quite that far yet. I remembered how enthralled she was with the animals at the National Zoo and, later, at Spokane’s own Cat Tales. Her dad has always said she’s fearless with animals. I asked her if she had ever considered a career with animals. Not as a vet, she said; so I asked, how about as a zoo keeper? I told her about the amazing zoo keeper training program at Cat Tales. Who knows, maybe I’ve planted a seed for a future career.

I came away from our afternoon together liking this teenager even more and very hopeful our friendship can last through the teen years. After talking to her, hanging out with her, and having fun just digging a little deeper into who she is, somehow I don’t feel almost-fifty. I feel a little more like a teenager myself. Thank you, V.