By Agnes Krup

“What would you like to listen to?” I asked my daughter after we had threaded our rental car into the heavy traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens-Expressway.

“ABBA,” she said without hesitation. “And I won’t listen to any of your other music the whole trip, Mama.”

What a difference a year makes. Last year August on same trip, the same route from Brooklyn to Dennis on Cape Cod, I had to fight to be allowed to listen to a few ABBA-tracks in between her princess songs and the audio plays of her favorite books.

I, for one, must confess that I am a bit over-ABBAed. Over the past twelve months, I have spent countless hours crawling around YouTube, looking for the most remote recording, interview, glimpse at a concert. I still listen to the B-sides of some of ABBA’s early singles and indulge in Frida’s rich alto in their swan song, “Cassandra”. But who would have thought Pierce Brosnan could actually be such a turn-off? That one could actually whince at the sound of his voice? His rendition of some of the most treasured ABBA songs just did it for me.

We had of course watched the movie together, my daughter and I, when it came out earlier this summer. But I hadn’t realized at the time that it had made such an impression on her, especially since it hadn’t on me. That only started to dawn on me during the car ride up to Cape Cod, after playing “Chiquitita” about a dozen times in a row.

At the small beach on Lake Scargo, I watched her on the swing. She was flying high, absorbed in her own momentum. When I was that age, I broke my arm jumping off the swing at the highest point. All photographs taken the summer when I was nine, during our vacation on the Danish island we always went to, show my right arm in a black sling, whether I am in a bathing suit or a sweater. The photos also show me with my blond hair in a ponytail, tall, with impossibly long legs, towering over my still chubby little brother.

My daughter, too, is growing her hair, and I need to put it in a ponytail every morning. Her legs are impossibly long, her body is very slender, but not fragile. She is the athlete I have never been, fearless and adventurous. She spent whole afternoons during this vacation jumping into the ocean or a pool from a boat or a diving board. She went snorkeling and practiced with her skimboard. She collected seven mussels and kept them as pets for the duration of the vacation, in a bucket, and she read to her doll every night before they went to sleep.

And yet. While I made dinner one night, racing back and forth between the cottage’s small kitchen and the outdoor grill, she was in the tiny living room, lip-synching “Honey, Honey”, her favorite ABBA song of all, I understand. She stood in her pink short pjs with white polka dots, doing dance movements that seemed to have been inspired by her ballet classes, strutting around an imaginary stage. She clicked through my iPod to find “Waterloo”. I leaned in the frame of the kitchen door, watching her routine, and while she gave me a dismissive little wave she wasn’t self-conscious enough to stop what she was doing.

In some of the photographs of the summer when I was nine, I carry an inflatable beach toy, a red and white dolphin with a big curly smile painted onto his sides. I gave him a name that I don’t remember, but I do remember carrying him everywhere. At night, I would take him into my tiny room in our cottage, hiding him under the bed, embarrassed that my parents would find me with such a cheesy toy. But I confided in him all summer long, important secrets that I also don’t remember. Watching my child in her tender, private moment that night made me wonder what my mother knew about me that summer.

One morning we had a torrential downpour and my daughter tore off her pjs and raced outside to dance naked in the heavy rain, watched, I imagine, by a startled crowd of rabbits and crows and, perhaps, the cardinal, the coyote and the big striped skunk we had seen loitering around the cottage. “Yes, I’ve been broken-hearted,” I heard her bellow out as she was jumping up and down, looking like the happiest child alive. How long will it take her to find out what that really means? Or perhaps she does know? Does living with divorced parents, shuttling back and forth, not qualify as a broken heart experience?

And now she will go back to school, an inch taller than she was when third grade ended, it seems, tanned and healthy and strong. She will play soccer and squash, cuddle with her cat and read to her doll, but she will not draw and paint as much as she used to, too critical of her own work all of a sudden. She will brush her hair in front of the mirror for hours, then burst into tears and declare herself “ugly.” She will still dance in the rain, but stop dead in her tracks every once in a while, weighed down by the sorrows of the world and the crimes mankind is committing against nature. She will want to be with me all the time and cling to my arm, and then disappear into her room for whole afternoons. She will be very busy and have much on her mind, and I won’t know half of it. And I know that I can consider myself lucky if, on her way to school each morning, she will remember to wave good-bye with that absent-minded smile.

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