Waiting in the car line to pick up my younger daughter after school a few days ago, I had the rare opportunity to watch her interact with her peers. She was talking with a group of three little boys. I was too far away to hear what they were saying and I was listening to news radio so I just watched their facial expressions and gestures, guessing at what they might be saying. And because the news report was on location in London, I imagined they were saying it in an English accent.
Giggling to myself, I noticed that she respected the other kids’ personal space and was respected in return. She appeared confident and happy and seemed to be using appropriate social skills. But I observed one very troubling thing – my six-year-old was behaving differently around these boys than she does around girls. She was more animated and though it pains me to say it, flirty.
As I pulled up in front of her, she wrapped up her conversation with, “Bye Brody, I’ll see you tomorrow!” and all but curtsied before she climbed in the car. “We’ll see about that,” I mumbled to myself, and then so she could hear, “Hi baby! How was your day? Buckle up!” She responded with “Mommy, did you know that cool kids chew gum and text their boyfriends all night?” She went on to describe what they text to their boyfriends but because I was in a state of emotional shock, I didn’t quite catch it all. I just know it ended in “XOXO.”
Making a mental note to never allow my children to have cellphones ever, we headed to get my older child from the middle school. My nine-year-old got in the car talking about violin practice and wondering when her new eyeglasses would be in, so it didn’t sound like boys or texting were on her radar yet. This made me feel better. Until later in the evening, when I shit you not, she and I got into an argument about bras. As she stormed off to her room in tears, I sunk down into the couch, drowning in the realization that the days of tea parties, Disney Princesses, and story time are quickly passing us by.
The very next day, the same child with whom I had had the Battle of the Bras, asked if she could have Snapchat. “NOOOO!” I yelled, with a definite note of hysteria in my voice. And then quieter but not necessarily calmer, “No, you cannot have Snapchat. You don’t even have a phone. BECAUSE YOU’RE NINE.” Her response suggested she was in a more rational state of mind than I was and wisely, she dropped the subject. I wasn’t quite ready to move on but since I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to burden our children with our neurotic freak-outs, I kept my thoughts to myself.
Several years ago, just before my second child was born, Miss Flirty Gerty herself, I was watching a woman struggle with a toddler and a baby in a carrier and it hit me like a truck that very soon, I would also be a mother of two.
“What if I can’t do it?” I whined to my friend who worked in the office next door to me at the time. Sure, I probably should have thought about this well before that point, but I had a three-year-old; I’d been too busy to stop and reflect.
He skillfully talked me down, “I don’t think it’s really a matter of how or if you’ll do it, Nik. You just will. Because you’ll have to. That’s how it works. Stuff is hard and we figure it out anyway because we have to.”
Parenting has felt a little easier in the last year or so but this might just be the calm before the adolescent storm. To be clear, I know there is a big difference between six and nine and fifteen. But the days of make-up and attitude and driving and boyfriends and “But Mo-om, Claire’s parents let her…” are just around the bend.
I think we have a little time yet but at some point, in the not too distant future, my child will ask about Snapchat again. Both of them will. They will want cellphones and be interested in boys. And we will fight about more than just bras.
Lots of stuff will be hard. But I’ll figure it out anyway. Because I’ll have to.