Ok, be cool. I got this. It’s really just a matter of working with the technology that I’m given. Don’t expect too much, just be cool.
“Hi,” I text my daughter sitting at the end of the couch. Her thumbs start working fast enough that it creates a vortex that sucks in the dog.
“What???” she responds.
Alright. Part two of Communicate With My Daughter is in effect. Part one didn’t go so well. She got home from school, and I tried to be verbal. She gave me a head nod like I’m some bro she shares a house with. Next, she is going to be asking me where’s the beer bong and calling me Pops.
“How was school?” A simple text, and an open-ended question. There is a wealth of responses she could make here. Maybe we can talk about how her adjustment to middle school is going. Perhaps a treatise on colonialism in the early nineteenth century. I would take anything.
I get back an emoji. Just one. It’s a weird yellow guy making a facial expression that I can’t quite make out because I need glasses and am too stubborn to admit it. Is he smiling or frowning? Is it a he? Are there genders with emoji people things?
I don’t know how to respond, but it doesn’t really matter. More emojis come.
Several facial expressions, a bus for some reason, and I think some sort of animal. I have no idea what any of this means. Time ticks by.
My daughter sighs. I’m losing her. What does all this mean?
There is some sort of puzzle in here that I’m not getting. I work on clarity in my writing. Emojis are the exact opposite of that. They are based on a feeling that often doesn’t translate well between a forty-three old man (now known as Pops) and his twelve-year-old daughter. My arthritic fingers move as fast as they can.
“That’s too bad, honey. Do you want to talk about it?”
I took a shot in the dark. Based on her current behaviors, it’s a solid guess.
“NO!” she texts back.
Crap. I moved too fast. I shouldn’t have used the word ‘talk’. That’s much too soon. Baby steps, Pops. Baby steps.
“You look great today,” I send back and immediately regret it. I’m trying not to equate looking good with any kind of mental state. It’s an old cliche, and my head just went there. How she looks shouldn’t matter.
You know what, raising daughters is really, really difficult sometimes. I try to find common ground, but mostly start an earthquake. I’m willing to learn, do whatever it takes. She’s my girl.
Wait, not my girl. She is my young woman that will one day kick so much ass that there will be monuments named after her. I just got to get her to believe it.
When she texts back it’s a picture of a hamburger with a thumbs down hand. Hmm. I need an emoji translator. Is that a thing? Like, is there a guy you can call and say “Hey, this is what I was sent. Is this a body issue thing where food equals love, or is she saying that she doesn’t like the school hamburger lunch?” Maybe the translator can partner with some sort of digital linguist. Then we could figure this out. Reading emojis is more difficult than learning Klingon, which I actually do speak.
“Ok,” I text back. It’s the safe play. Pops has got this.
She sends me a gif next. I know what these are. They are little moving pictures that usually make some sort of connection with the reader. But how do you “read” a gif? Is this a new branch of study for the emoji translator? The gif is of a young girl yawning.
“Tired? Want to do jumping jacks? Lmfao?”
I’m pretty sure that in my attempt to shorthand text with my daughter I just said a cuss word. This could be going better.
Her fingers move in that vortex again; the dog gets spit out. He’s doing ok. A different picture pops up on my phone.
I know what this is! This is called a bitmoji! The picture is of a guy on water skis jumping over a shark.
My heart sinks. Does she know what that means? No, she can’t possibly know that. Happy Days and the Fonz were way before her time. But maybe she does know what it means, and she is saying that this conversation is over?
I have to send a bitmoji back. She showed me how to do it once. I tap in the type screen, go to some sort of app, then cut and paste, sacrifice a chicken and pay my taxes. Then boom, I’m bitmojing!
Fifteen minutes later, I give up. I think I just gave my bank account information to a Nigerian prince.
You know what, this isn’t working. The technological divide between the two of us is too great. There is a generational gap here that is not translating.
And I try hard, too. I’ve read stuff on this weird place called “the internet” that explained some of it. In-between pictures of cats, the internet explained that emojis are a subtle way of communication. The nuances of preteen texting are completely lost on me.
So you know what, let’s play to my strengths. I’m not subtle.
I throw a pillow at her head.
“Talk to me!” I say. The silence in the house is broken and it’s shocking to hear the echoes.
My daughter looks up at me. The dog runs away to text my wife that things are about to get weird.
“Oh, ok. School was fine, but the math test was hard. I don’t think I did too well on it. I’m a bit tired. And I don’t want hamburgers for dinner, can we have spaghetti instead?”
I shudder upon hearing her voice. It’s sweet angel music.
“What was the water ski thing?”
“If we are going to do jumping jacks, let’s do them over sharks!” My daughter laughs, and it’s a chorus.
There’s my girl. I’ve missed her.
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