In December of 1982 I turned eight years old. I don’t remember exactly what I got for my birthday, but the smart money says: scriptures and a dress for my baptism. The good thing about having a December birthday is that when you hit one of those years (like eight, for those of us baptized at eight) when you get “responsible gifts” you know that the “party it up gifts” are only two weeks away, unlike my sisters who all have summer birthdays and had to wait six months. My “party it up gift” for Christmas ’82 was … a Cabbage Patch Doll. Her name was Carlotta Lotti (with my surname obviously) and she smelled like fake baby powder mixed with new plastic. Because it was the first year that these dolls were available there was a lot of Patch envy and I was more excited about that ugly little doll than maybe anything else before or since, except perhaps, for my phone shaped like a pair of big red lips that I got when I turned fourteen.
Here’s the thing; as you might remember from my previous sentence, I was fourteen when I got that phone. I was a full on teenager doing full on teenager things. I was wearing high heels and makeup and had my very own bra and everything. Do you want to know what my nine-year-old daughter has wanted for the last two Christmases? A phone, of the cellular variety, a distant and much uglier cousin to my rad red lip phone. My daughter is not fourteen. My daughter is nine.
My daughter is nine and is now what might be referred to as a “Tween”. Let’s get one thing straight right now. This is not even a real word people. (It’s not. It’s an unword.) This is a word that is thrown about as though it is an actual developmental stage. (It’s not. It’s an unstage.) This word is supposed to explain lots of things, and describe lots of things, and make you understand lots of things about your child that, as a member of an aging Generation X, you did not know before it was so eloquently explained by the advertising executives and magazine editors who made it up and can now parle your new parenting-saavy into selling almost grown up things to the parents of people who are not even close to grown up. This word is a marketing predator. It is the assassin of an entire generation of children’s … childhood. (And last time I checked “childhood” is an actual stage of life).
Because the phone was a definite non-starter, I Googled (made up word) “what to get for your Tween for Christmas” and not only did I not find a gift, but was shocked and awed (made up phrase) at some of the entries I found. (Almost all of which were aimed at girls. Hmmm.) The worst of which was entitled “When to get your Tween her first bikini wax”. (In the spirit of full disclosure I must tell you that I did not actually read this article. I’m allowing myself to imagine it saying something like this: “If you are reading this you should really take the wax job money and start a therapy fund for your poor kid. Trust us she’s going to need it.”
Just to be clear, I’m all for personal hygiene and I think that that includes hair removal—FOR ADULT WOMEN (and, let’s face it, sometimes men) that are old enough to give informed consent to the very painful process that is having your hair smothered in hot wax and ripped out at the root. I am not okay, however, with a horse pill sized dose of adult vanity (of which I have plenty—I use two different eye creams twice a day to keep the wrinkles on someone else’s face) being allowed to ooze all over my kid. If the Madison Avenue people (or wherever they are these days) want to stick a cell phone in their daughter’s hand, slap some lipstick on her and yell “call me when you get there” as she sprints alone towards her future, fine. But I intend on staying no more than two steps behind mine for the foreseeable future. Just in case.
I want my daughter to be a child while she’s a child. I want her to be a teenager while she’s a teenager. I want her to squeeze every drop of her youth out of life like one of those crazy Jack LaLanne juice machines, (who knew that carrots had so much liquid inside them) and then I hope she can close the door behind her and feel like she’s arrived somewhere important. I want her childhood to not only prepare her to be an adult, but to liberate her to be an adult woman. I do not want her turning into one of those forty-ish year old women that still shops in the “Brass Plum” at Nordstrom because someone made her believe that seventeen is the only age that is acceptable and beautiful and worth being. (Long story short ladies, just because it fits, doesn’t mean it fits your age.)
My nine-year-old doesn’t need her eyebrows tweezed (well, she sort of does but she doesn’t know that yet.) She doesn’t need her hair colored. (She will, she’s going dishwater, but she doesn’t know that yet.) She doesn’t need high-heeled big girl shoes. (She will, she’s probably not going to be much taller than me, but she doesn’t know that yet.) What she does need is as much time as possible to not change a single thing about herself. She will find that there will be a multitude of lifetimes to worry about that.
What she needs most of all though is a mom who can figure out what to get a nine-year-old girl for Christmas. Maybe I’ll try to find my old Cabbage Patch doll and call it “Vintage Tween”. I bet I could make millions.