Friday, August 28, 2009


My daughter turns twelve tomorrow, and twelve seems to have been, for me, a year of awakening. Twelve was when I put away the Barbie dolls for good, after a few last half-hearted attempts to play that just weren't satisfying. Twelve was when I busied my doll-lonely hands with various craft kits, churning out latch hook rugs, cross-stitched samplers and dozens of shiny beaded dolls. Even tonight, on the eve of my daughter's birthday, she is packing away a tubful of American Girl clothes and accessories, who will join the box of Barbies already under her bed. As if something magical kicks in exactly at 12, some silent signal.

At twelve I was lamenting having moved from a neighborhood filled with childhood friends to a new house out in the country. My diary is filled with pages of memories of the old neighborhood and missing my friends. "It's really hard to control my feelings about moving," I wrote. "My heart is almost always heavy. If my parents knew how much I am suffering they would have never moved." Makes me wonder: does my daughter suffer so deeply? Is her heart ever so heavy?

The brother closest to me would have been 14, and we barely spoke to one another. Not uncommon in my diary are phrases like "Stephen opened up his big mouth" and "Stephen is such a jerk. He makes me want to barf." I see that in my daughter with her younger brother, that irritation and shortness with him. I want to knock their heads together and tell them that they are wasting time with their bickering, that it is better for them to cultivate closeness now than to wait 20 years. Or never.

At twelve I was awkward looking with braces and glasses—those really big ones that everyone wore in 1978—, and to add insult to that, I got all my hair cut off. I sketched my new hairdo in my diary, and, well, curly hair just didn't do Farrah Fawcett very well. My daughter is much prettier than I was then, although I imagine she feels just as awkward and self-conscious.

Twelve began the phase of boy-craziness, which lasted for a very long time. Boys from school or ones I'd meet briefly at church camp and daydream about for months. Watching the dating scene begin in earnest in seventh grade and wondering when someone was going to notice me. And terrified about what that might mean. My daughter at twelve seems completely uninterested in boys, but perhaps my mother thought the same thing. Likely, in fact, she did. We shy girls hide. Does my daughter imagine what it would be like to have a boy smile at her?

And twelve meant fights between girlfriends, another theme that was to become central in my diaries in years to come. "She's been talking about me all day, acting like a fool." The pain of losing friends, of negotiating the fragile and every-shifting territory of girl relationships: "I've never been without a best friend and it's weird. Sure, I got a lot of friends, but they all got their own best friends. I really wish I had one." At twelve my friends ranked differently according to, I suppose, the latest drama. Every few pages I'd rank them like this:
"My best friends are:
Lisa Calabrese
Karen Wilson
Lisa Mauro
Michelle Trickler
Ros Dickson
Debbie Patchett
Amy Dunathan
Anne Collins
Lisa Gage"
My daughter has been with a group of girls since kindergarten, with a few additions in the past few years. She is a lovely, happy girl who laughs easily and who adores her friends. I wonder how much different her life is because she doesn't have to navigate the complex and stressful paths of public school, especially in middle school. I am happy about that for her. And I wonder: will my daughter look back at 12 and wonder what ever happened to some of those people, remember slumber parties and hours of phone calls, puzzling over what could have happened to knock a person off the "best friends" list?

At twelve I alternated between being frustrated with my parents and enjoying them. I clearly remember my mother once sitting by my bed at nighttime, saying "We don't like each other very much right now, do we?" How I resented that, and yet I'm sure she was just exhausted from housing a bratty and ungrateful daughter. I admit I've had moments when my daughter's attitude makes me bristle. Still, I feel enormously grateful that she is my girl, even when she's stomping off to her room. I'm sure my mom felt the same way, deep down. I knew even then that she loved me, even if she didn't like me. I hope my daughter always knows that, too.

I don't think I was very nice when I was twelve. I was selfish and bristly and insecure. My daughter seems to me to be a much, much nicer person. If I were twelve, I would want to be her friend because she is the kind of girl who is always laughing and always encouraging others. She's a great listener and always tries to be tactful. I hope she stays that way.

I had to leave her room tonight as I watched her fold up Bitty Baby outfits and little shoes. I remember doing that at twelve, and it was like packing away childhood. And that I just couldn't finish watching. She's still just my little girl.


  1. I have felt the same pangs in the past week ... though I've been feeling them for quite a while now. And I believe you have saved her from some of those dramas by homeschooling!

  2. Beautiful.

    My boy turned 12 this year. He suddenly changed!

    I have a year and a half before my girl turns 12... I think I'll hate having no reason to make doll clothes!

  3. That was beautiful.
    My daughter is is sad to see her growing up...and I'm so thankful we are a hs family some of the heartaches I remember growing up she is does not deal with as much although I think these preteen years are hard to navigate.

  4. Wow! I am both scared and exhilerated as my kids grow older. Packing away THEIR old clothes and outgrown toys always gives me pangs... I can't imagine what it will be like when they pack them away themselves.

    It seems though that you are doing a beautiful job of raising a daughter!


I love comments! Thanks for taking the time to leave one. I have comment moderation on, so your comment will take a little bit to appear.