Three Things To Do With A Teenage Girl (Of The Eleven O’Clock Variety, Or Any Variety)

by Becky on February 27, 2013 · 6 comments

in Parenting, Traditions, Travel

Millay holding camera_9653

Thing one. Take the Teenage Girl In Your Life with you when you do something kind for someone else.

So I grab Miss Zinnia the other day, and I tell her we’re going to visit Miss Rosa (not her real name), who lives up the street a few blocks. “I’m going to take her some soup,” I say, “and I want you to come with me.”

She’s reluctant at first. She doesn’t know Miss Rosa (naturally I’ve given her a flower name), who is a woman of mature years and who lives in a flat the size of a shoebox. But to her credit, Miss Zinnia puts on a jacket, a scarf, and the red felt hat (very Edwardian) she recently acquired, and off we go, with me toting both the bowl of soup and Miss Zinnia.

As a matter of courtesy, I asked Miss Rosa beforehand if I could translate for the two of them, and when we arrive and exchange the requisite two-cheek kisses, I suggest we commence chatting–that she and my Zinnia jump into the business of getting to know each other.

At first it’s a bit awkward for Miss Zinnia, but with me mediating the langauge gap and asking for additional help with Miss Rosa’s fond Catalan phrases and metaphors (Catalan is a wonderfully metaphorical language, from what I’ve been able to observe), the two take the first steps toward friendship.

And what do you know? They both love herbal tea with notes of fruit and flowers, Miss Zinnia lighting up when she talks about the infusion (what they call herbal teas here) she got at Christmas, a special “brew” called Kalahari, named for the African desert. And they both love movie musicals. When Miss Rosa mentions Singin’ In The Rain, Miss Zinnia’s all-time favorite, Miss Zinnia smiles so warmly I wonder if we’ll need to turn off the little space heater Miss Rosa has placed near us, to keep us warm.

And it goes on like this for the better part of an hour, though eventually the discussion turns (as it often does) to Miss Rosa’s thoughts on the Catalan secessionist movement and other sundry themes a tad bit too politically charged for Miss Zinnia, particularly as they find expression in Miss Rosa’s colorful language . . .

When we kiss Miss Rosa goodbye and leave her flat, Miss Zinnia links her arm with mine, and on our way home, I say, “We made her day.” And Miss Zinnia, feeling reflective, acknowledges that this might indeed be true. “This was the right thing to do this afternoon,” I tell her.  “And,” I add, “the soup’ll be perfect for her dinner!”

I think about what the visit looked like from where Miss Zinnia was sitting: the oddly delightful, slightly intimidating combination of age and youthful verve that is Miss Rosa. Her arthritis continually pesky, she uses braces to walk. But that doesn’t stop her from holding forth on the theme of Franco’s catastrophic oppression of the Catalans during what she views as his reign of terror, for example.  She is nothing if not a character.

I notice that Miss Zinnia’s attitude has shifted. Before our walk to Miss Rosa’s small flat, she was nervous. Afterwards, she understands that her efforts to make another woman–one whom age has not been kind to–feel just the slightest bit happier on a Sunday afternoon have worked. You could see it on Miss Rosa’s face.

I decide immediately that taking a girl in a red felt hat (or any kind of hat) along to visit the Miss Rosas in my life can be brilliant. Why, you wonder?–because now, Miss Zinnia has a Miss Rosa in her life, too, and that simple fact will resonate with her into adulthood and beyond.


Jen Piatt February 27, 2013 at 1:47 pm

What a great story and sharing the importance of giving to others. What a feel good story! And, I could just see you and Millie walking the streets with your arms linked together.

Becky February 28, 2013 at 12:20 am

Jen, what does the research say about acts of kindness as ‘therapy’? Anything? I know a woman at home who’s so wonderfully, incurably KIND, and she’s SO HAPPY! Do you and your students talk about creative niceness, let’s say, as a form of recreation? Cool idea, no? Besitos. XX

Karen L February 27, 2013 at 1:49 pm

What a wonderful example for your daughter, and a sweet memory for you both to keep. I need to look for those opportunities to have with all of my kids.

Becky February 28, 2013 at 12:18 am

Karen, part of it was purely selfish: bringing Miss Z. along made me look good. She endeared herself to Miss Rosa just that fast, without even trying. Funny that I had to come to Spain to re-figure this out–that when you muscle a kid into doing something nice, the benefits FAR outweigh the ‘calorie expenditure’ it takes on my part to orchestrate the moment. Plus it’s so lovely to have the company of one of the petals. Un fuerte saludo . . . y dos besos.

danielle July 3, 2013 at 3:45 am

This story reminds me of the creative niceness you and Miss Zinnia demonstrated on my wedding day and while I went through treatment. Today I am blessed to be able to tend to a feisty 91 year old woman. She reminds me of my own grandmother in her requests to do things precisely as told. Though stern and short at times, she’s determined and an example of enduring day after day. Oh what a privilege to be able to serve her and make her load a little lighter. While listening to her stories, I glean important lessons of life. As the day comes to a close, I express gratitude for the chance to serve. We exchange a warm embrace and I bid her adieu god willing till another day. Service is a blessing. And serving the elderly is a gift. Thank you for the reminder.

Becky July 4, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Dear Danielle,

Your 91 year old friend is indeed lucky to have you in her life. You are one of the loveliest, kindest people I know, and I can only imagine the way you light up her day when you arrive. Such a treat to hear from you! xx



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