After careful consideration, I have decided that I am not equipped to parent a teenaged girl. This is really a pity, because it leaves me just three short years with my family before I either have to send Chickadee off to a military academy or enter the Witness Protection Program, and I’m not sure I’m even going to be caught up with all of the television shows I have DVRed, by then. Also, who will tell Monkey to put his socks in the hamper? Who will say to Otto, “HUSBAND! Please go outside and MAKE FIRE and bring us back some CHARRED FLESH!”?
In case you haven’t guessed, my darling daughter has a wee small case of PMS. And by “wee small” I of course mean “raging, out-of-control, how is this possible at not-quite-10, please kill me now.”
Parenthood: The ability to love another human with the very depths of your soul while simultaneously wanting to reach across the dinner table and stab her with your fork.
The worst part, of course, is that some of what she’s doing I have vivid memories of having gone through myself. And you’d think that would render me more capable of DOING SOMETHING USEFUL, but you would be incorrect, because everything I do is WRONG. I almost prefer the nonsensical rages where she stomps around shooting death rays at everyone who dares to glance her way; that’s certainly easier to watch than a replaying of every insecurity I’ve ever had.
For example, my sweet, darling daughter has recently decided that she is ugly. Do not try to convince her otherwise. You are JUST SAYING THAT. Because she IS ugly. SO UGLY.
Now, I recall my own mother telling me (as I wrestled with this same monster, because I am pretty sure it’s in the handbook that accelerated growth in preparation for puberty goes like this: foot growth spurt, a.k.a. Sudden Flippers; darkening body hair; conviction that you are the ugliest creature ever to live; boobs) “of course you’re pretty!” I also remember thinking that she couldn’t have been less convincing if she tried, because CLEARLY she was just BEING A MOM. GOD.
So I tried VERY HARD not to sound trite or talk her out of it; I told her that obviously I think she’s beautiful, but I would like to help HER feel beautiful, too, and was there something in particular about herself that she doesn’t like? Well, everything about her is STUPID. Her hair is STUPID. Her face is STUPID. And unless she’s wearing her very favorite outfit, she’s ugly.
What do you say to that? I mean, what can you say that doesn’t sound like “Of course you’re pretty!” or—worse!—“Don’t be stupid!”
I ran through every option in my parenting arsenal. I told her that it’s very common, at her age, to start becoming more conscious of how she looks, and equally common to feel that she’s somehow lacking. I told her that the hormones that are starting to course through her body to get her ready for puberty—those same hormones that tend to make her grouchy for no good reason—can trick her into thinking negative things about herself. I told her that true beauty is on the inside, and that people who are beautiful on the inside shine on the outside. I told her that people who worry overly about how they look forget to worry about who they are and how they act. I told her that sometimes it helps to pick ONE thing you like about the way you look and focus on that. (That one went over like a lead balloon, because haven’t you heard? Everything about her is stupid.) I told her that she has the prettiest smile I’ve ever seen, and that when she’s a little bit older all the girls who have to be careful about what they eat are going to hate her because she’s going to stay naturally thin even if she continues eating everything that doesn’t eat her first.
Basically all I accomplished during that conversation is that by the end, I wanted to cry, too.
I know it’s normal. I know this is standard I’m-not-a-little-kid-anymore stuff. I do.
A couple of nights ago the kids were getting ready for bed, and Chickadee came stomping down the stairs with her chin set. She made a beeline for where I was sitting, and demanded, “Is Santa real? TELL ME THE TRUTH.”
The truth is that around Christmas it became abundantly clear that she not only still believed, but that most of the kids in her class did not, and she was horrified at their cynicism. I had left multiple openings for her to “confess” and she had never taken the bait. Now I was to face the music on a random night in February?
“Well, honey, why do you ask?”
Her face crumpled. “You lied to me,” she wailed, before collapsing in my lap, wracked with sobs.
I ran through my parenting arsenal (again). I talked about how it’s a wonderful tradition about giving for the sheer joy of it, and with no expectations or strings attached. I talked about how real magic isn’t flying on brooms and turning invisible, but doing generous things for others and small answered prayers and everyday compassion. I pointed out that next year when we have Christmas with her cousins, she’ll be the only one who knows the secret, and she can help me get things ready for the little boys.
She asked me to tell her about when I found out. Then she asked Otto. Otto couldn’t remember, exactly, but he’s an oldest child just like her, and so he talked about how he got to help for the littler ones after he knew. She tried to digest all of this while curled up as small as possible with her head tucked under my chin.
“I don’t want to grow up,” she whispered into my shoulder, hugging me hard.
I don’t know that there’s a light at the end of this particular tunnel. I think it might be more like a single, flickering lightning bug.
Yesterday Monkey fiddled with a loose tooth until it came out in his hand. “I’m going to write the tooth fairy a note!” he declared, dizzy with the possibilities. Chickadee snuck me a furtive, knowing glance. I smiled at her, a smile that I hope told her that life on this side of the fence is pretty good, too. She smiled back.
This morning, she asked me something and apparently I answered wrong. “FINE!” she screamed at me, stomping off to brush her STUPID HAIR.