Eight: The New Thirteen
My first failure in parental prep came when my first-born, Megan, was in the throws of crawling, which puts some WWF smackdown into the diaper change routine. I flipped her onto her back, whipped off the dirty bundle, and attempted to distract her addiction for motion with a few words: “Lift up those legs so I can clean up your …” and went mute. What word were we going to encourage in reference to the backside? I scrambled through the options. Butt? Slightly crude. Buttocks? To snobbish. Fanny? Girl’s name. Tushy? Oh, please. “Buns.” I fed her verbally starved brain. It was my first in flash-parenting, a warm-up to the real heat ahead of me.
At four years old she came home crying, Elmer’s glue dripping from her hair, apparently an all new initiation ritual to join the Napa Drive Club, with its impressive membership of two other four-year-olds. Was this … could it be … female cattiness? Already? I was mystified, speechless. I glanced at my tattered stack of Parents magazines, full of advice on when to stop naptime and the best toys of 2004. Could I have missed the article on “Avoiding the Pre-Teen Drama Queen”?
Once first grade began, she came to us requesting a timeline of the major events in her life. Exactly when would she be getting her cell? What age would she finally get earrings and join the rest of her gender? When would I be visiting the mailbox without her? When would she begin dating, driving, get married, have children, retire, and visit Florida for a “real” summer camp? I looked at her upturned freckled nose and thought, According to the latest research, time does not concern you beyond this weekend’s sleepover. “Ten!” I blurted, because it sounded like a nice mature number, but only for body piercing. “You can get earrings at ten. We’ll let you know on all the rest.” Translated down this means, “Your parents cannot deal!”
After eight years, my backbone stiffens with her casual approach, knowing with the right words she will catapult me into a stupefied mess. Today, she brings me her best sucker punch yet. My third-grade sweetheart explains that a girl in class was talking about sleeping naked with a boy under a blanket. She questions if it is possible for this friend to get pregnant. “I mean, like, can it physically, like, happen?” I consider her, understanding these are the moments driving the Botox market. We’ve had the sex talk, a highlight in the seventh year, but I anticipated direct queries into this matter were still in that land of the far, far away. Hoping my “understanding parent” face is plastic enough to hide the horror, I reply, “Sorry, honey, I have fully prepared for this discussion, but according to my adolescent handbook it should not take place for approximately eighteen more months.”
When did eight become the new thirteen? She doesn’t watch evening TV (alright, maybe an episode or two of Wipeout). We know her friends, their parents, and the grandparents. Is this a byproduct of “No Child Left Behind”? Is it the price we’ll pay for going non-denominational? Is it Sponge-Bob? Once again, I am farther behind on my parenting than my photo albums. This trend toward hyper-aging is compelling me to dive, dive, dive, right into the weighty issues, the dreaded four Ds: drugs, drinking, dating, and day spa addiction.
This evening my neighbor waddles by, drowning in her glow of anticipation, asking for a bit of parenting advice. I tell her skip What to Expect When Your Expecting. Save it for some laugh-out-loud reading in her empty-nest years. Instead, I advise her to jot down those issues she dreads most, from potty-mouth to STDs. Mark each upheaval with the approximate age she anticipates it being introduced into her lovely home. Study it with her husband, contemplating the hard parenting ahead of them, and when they have accepted it, cut all those ages in half. Now this, I tell her as she takes in my own empathetic, weary halo, is what she can really expect.
As first seen in the November issue of Parent: Wise Austin