My oldest daughter is nearly 8, officially a "tween" - as in, "in between" being a child and a teenager. It's a weird age, to say the least. She'll sing along with "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" one minute, then plead for a cell phone so that she can text her friends the next. (FYI, the answer is no. Get over it.) She'll happily play Barbies for hours, then ask me a question like, "How do you know you're in love with the right person? And won't I be in love a bunch of times before I decide to get married?" She'll beg to read the Twilight Saga minutes after insisting I read Goodnight Moon to her, like I've done every night since she was born. She remembers to charge her iPod, but not to flush the toilet. She can stand in front of Rodin's "The Thinker" and discuss the beauty of the human form as an inspiration for sculptors throughout the ages, but then falls on the floor laughing at the word "penis" or "toot". She can intelligently discuss Impressionism, define pointillism, tell a Monet from a Manet ("It's all in the use of light, Mom") but then cry if we're out of yogurt or if I forgot to put a love note in her lunch. She says things like, "I like my butt in these skinny jeans" but still sleeps with a stuffed monkey, and she giggles when her sister burps.
This dichotomy between young child and young woman disturbs my husband. He's more than a little freaked out by any questions about sex or human development, so that's fallen to me. (But in his defense, they ARE girls, and having taught sex-ed to hundreds of students over the years, I do have more experience in this aspect of Uncomfortable Parental Conversations. I'll let him give the lectures entitled "Why The Patriots Can't Seem to Win a Superbowl Anymore" and "What To Do When You Get a Flat Tire" - which, in my mind, is call your dad. Even when you're 41.) But after a fairly dry, clinical explanation of how babies are made and born, her reaction was, "That is the MOST DISGUSTING thing I've EVER heard!" (Her dad's reaction? "Whew. That's right. Keep thinking that. And the Patriots WILL win another Superbowl! You'll see!")
This eagerness to grow up while still wanting to be my baby is oddly familiar. It wasn't too many years ago that she wanted to be independent ("I DO it BY SELF!") but then cuddle in my lap with a pacifier and a lovey, to be rocked, sung to, held. Our kids want to try new things, to toddle away from us, but then know that they can always come running back for hugs and kisses if they fall down and get an "owie". And don't we all want that? Even as adults? To know that our parents are always there for us when we need, or just want, them?
Tweens are a lot like toddlers; they just have bigger bodies and smaller toys. Tantrums, giggles, crying instead of just telling us WTF they want, acting like the world will end if things don't go their way, pushing us away while trying to cuddle close. It makes me want to wear a tee-shirt someone gave me, as a joke, when I had my first baby. It says, "Mommy Drinks Because I Cry." The tween is a difficult creature to figure out. Part child, part adolescent, riddled with emotional angst yet wanting to sleep with her baby blanket, she is stuck somewhere between childhood and the teen years. It's maddening.
But entirely normal.
I've read enough "tween development" books to know that hormonal shifts begin as early as age 7, so I know that her mood swings and crying jags have more to do with her growing up than anything else. But I still have to remind myself that my daughter is just a little girl, struggling to figure out this big, crazy world, much like when she was a toddler. Soon enough, she'll be driving, dating, starting college, moving away. And I'll long for these tween years, difficult as they may be, when my sweet daughter was poised between girlhood and womanhood. Tweens remind me of toddlers, but in overgrown bodies. And they're a lot harder to strap into car seats and put on the naughty chair. But they still need to fit on our laps.
Slacker Mom Says...cherish each developmental stage. As much as I missed the infant stage, I loved the toddler stage. As much as I'd like to tell my husband, "I changed approximately 12,943 diapers and nursed this kid 8 times a day for over a year. It's YOUR turn now!" and then hand her over for the next few years, I know that my tween needs a mother's love, a mother's touch, a mother's lap when she's going through her latest crisis. She needs to know that no matter what, her mom will welcome her with open arms, a listening ear, and some wise advice - and maybe a little wise-ass advice, if the situation warrants it. If we do it right when they're toddlers, the tween years will be easier. But it's never too late to let our kids know we're always there for them, ready to hear them, to help them, no matter what. And that old tee-shirt? It may be appropriate now more than ever.