The last few sleepover adventures left you crabby and snappish and generally impossible, so we lowered the boom last summer: No more sleepovers until you are 12. So of course as your birthday approached you began planning a grand sleepover party, and were astonished to realize that no, actually, we were not going to green-light ten friends sleeping over. Because WE SAID. And WE PROMISED! When you were 12! And you’re turning 12 now and THAT’S NOT FAIR and WE ARE MEAN!
We calmly explained that “when you are 12” meant “sometime after you are 12 we will resume letting you have a single friend spend the night,” not “and on your 12th birthday we shall lose our minds and agree to host a 16-hour-long screechfest.” I waited for the storm to pass. You stomped and grumbled and then set to the task of planning. By the time you were done, make-your-own tacos and a sundae bar and head-to-head Dance Dance Revolution were all on the agenda, and you were happy.
Invitations were made and some of your friends—caught up in their own tween dramas, no doubt—hemmed and hawed and didn’t RSVP, and soon you were sad again, convinced no one was coming, convinced you would never have another happy birthday in your entire life. I waited for the storm to pass.
In the end, a loud and excited (and did I mention LOUD?) group assembled and the games began. The volume climbed and climbed and I cautioned a bit of modulation, at which point the noise level dropped for all of about fifteen seconds. The pack of you swarmed inside and out, leaving a wiimote-littered wreckage in the family room and then taco carnage in the kitchen, a swath of discarded items through the entire upstairs, and finally sticky ice cream residue on the porch. You all ran and screamed and I thought to myself that the only difference, really, between this party and the one we had a decade ago for your second birthday, was that I was not expected to stand in the middle and direct traffic. The exuberance was the same, some of the misunderstandings and failure to share were the same, but now I watched from the window (or listened from another floor) as you all worked it out yourselves.
When the last girl was picked up, I asked you if you’d had a good party and you nodded and hugged me tight, but you seemed a little melancholy. We snuggled and chatted a bit before you went to bed, while I waited for the clouds to pass. When you seemed drowsy and calm I sent you off to sleep, adding that this was the last time I’d see you as an 11-year-old.
The next morning you knocked on the bedroom door and came and slid into the bed next to me, something you never do anymore. We chatted and poked Otto and got up and did presents and had pancakes for breakfast. Otto, of course, made you pancakes in the shape of a 12. And I, of course, bought you the ridiculously expensive sneakers you don’t need, because I remember what it’s like to be in middle school and feel like you simply MUST HAVE that one item in that one brand to fit in. (And also because I knew you never expected me to do it, and the joy on your face when you opened the box was absolutely worth it.)
We went out for pedicures (courtesy of Grandma and Grandpa), and you settled into the coveted FRONT seat of the car for the first time with a flourish and a grin. As we drove and chatted I said, “You know what’s kind of sad? I can’t remember anything about my twelfth birthday. At all. Isn’t that weird?” But it was the wrong thing to say to you, my tender-hearted girl, because it made you sad, and as I waited for the storm to pass I spoke of silly things to try to distract you. We stopped to buy you a pair of flip-flops—all of yours from last year shrunk during the winter—and for the first time, you now own a pair of shoes slightly bigger than mine.
By the time we arrived at the salon you’d perked up, and you giggled uncontrollably while having your feet scrubbed. While I opted for a neutral shade, you picked “Toe-Quoise” and I complimented you on your bold taste. After the pampering we walked around and did a bit of shopping. But while in the dressing room arguing with me about a dress that made you look 16 (“Why is this inappropriate?” “BECAUSE IT GIVES ME PALPITATIONS”), you looked down and discovered the design on your big toe had been smudged off, somehow. You crumpled onto the little bench behind you and wept.
I gathered you up in my arms and waited for the storm to pass. “Oh, honey,” I soothed, “don’t cry. We’ll go back and get your toe fixed, that’s not a big deal. And we will find you a fancy dress that’s beautiful and RIGHT. Just because this isn’t the one doesn’t mean we won’t find it. Please don’t cry, sweetheart.” You sniffled and dried your tears, and we headed back to the salon.
The wait this time was long, but we talked and joked and eventually you were all fixed up and we got smoothies and headed home. My first job, upon our return, was to assemble and frost your cake, which I’d left to cool when we went out. I got it done, somehow, which is a minor miracle because SOMEONE kept sticking her hand in the frosting while I was working. Ahem.
Then it was time to give Otto a haircut, and while I did you went and worked on Monkey, telling him that he would look awesome with shorter hair, and it would be cooler in the summertime, anyway, and Monkey—who had a hard week, last week, and perhaps a hard weekend while the spotlight was on you—grumped and balked and eventually stormed off. But as I was putting everything away, suddenly he appeared at my side, asking if maybe I could cut it just a little.
You swooped down on him with hugs and high-fives, telling him you thought he was awesome, and offering to come watch and coach me on his new ‘do. I followed your directions for a “cool skater haircut” and we stood back and surveyed the results. Um. He still looked like a girl, just now he looked like a girl with a very stylish bob. Whoops. A little more cutting and you declared he looked “so very cool and just like a boy.” We all took a moment to behold the heaps of hair surrounding the stool on the porch, as Monkey declared he was sure he’d lost several pounds.
We ate dinner; we watched Mythbusters; you talked to Daddy and then to Grandpa and thanked him for the pedicure and told him about your party. We lit candles and had cake and ice cream. You got ready for bed and then curled up on the couch with me, sad again.
I waited for the storm to pass while tears leaked out your eyes and you said you had no idea what was the matter; you’d had a nice party and a nice day and it doesn’t make any sense to feel sad. “It just seems like birthdays used to be a bigger deal,” you said, wistful. “Not that I didn’t have a lot of fun this weekend, just that I used to look forward to them more, and they felt like more of a HUGE thing. But now… I don’t know… getting older seems more scary.” I reminded you that this is not the first time you didn’t want to grow up, and it won’t be the last, but that this is normal.
It’s normal to feel happy and sad all at once or in rapid succession at this age.
It’s normal to be excited about getting older but scared about it, too.
It’s normal to feel feelings that don’t go with what’s happening, sometimes, because that’s part of growing up and doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong, but is just part of the territory with hormones.
And finally I reminded you that you will look back and remember turning 12, both because a lot of memorable things happened this weekend and because I would write about it. I thought to myself (but did not say) that someday you will be in the car with your daughter on her 12th birthday, and you will be able to tell her “Oh, I wanted this dress that my mom wouldn’t buy me and I got so mad about it! But it was a pretty good day, anyway.”
I didn’t say it, though, because your head was nestled under my chin and I was waiting for the storm to pass, and right then it made more sense just to kiss you again and whisper, “Happy birthday, baby girl. I think today was a very good day.” And you nodded and smiled a little, then headed up to bed.
Happy birthday, my darling little bird. I know I’ve only got a little umbrella, but there’s always going to be space for you under it, no matter how old you get. I promise.