Author’s Note: I wrote the “11 year old” post a year ago. That’s how efficient I am at publishing blog posts now, apparently. Thanks to Grandma for letting me host her 12th birthday party at her house, also!
Lily recently turned 11 years old and I’ve noticed subtle changes taking hold. She takes the stance of “older and wiser sister” more often with Vivienne; she doesn’t want me to read books to her at bedtime anymore; she is pickier about food in her lunch box. Lily has always been incredibly emotionally intelligent and picks up on the dynamics that exist even when words are not being spoken. In turn, she often melts away into herself and refuses to communicate. Many days, letting an ample amount of time pass, just sitting next to her, and remembering to be patient and not pushy gets her to open up. But there are moments when that shell won’t crack.
Getting ready for school one morning last week, she was sluggish and crabby. I knew something was bothering her but she wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t eat breakfast, wouldn’t crack the tiniest smile. I dropped the girls off at school and she walked away without even saying good-bye. I cried on the way home, wishing the end of my week with them (and the beginning of their week with their dad) would have been different.
She still shares things with me, randomly and sporadically. I know which of her friends is dating which boys at their school, when they break up, and when they get back together. I know that two of her friends started their periods. I know she still hates living in two houses and having parents who are divorced. I know she has cramps sometimes and just wants to stay in bed. I know she is already worried about middle school. I know she is sick of mac and cheese and the other lazy things I make for dinner. The only thing I know about what might be a better option, according to her, is tacos.
Lily has never been a follower but is careful and kind about how she leads. She is, in a very deep, conscientious, and real way, a genuinely cool girl. Lily has participated in a girls’ rock music camp a few times before, which culminates with a live performance at one of our local clubs. Seeing her on stage, usually with fun makeup and sprayed-on hair dye, introducing herself and then singing and playing her heart out, makes me explode with joy.
She is that cool girl I always wanted to be when I was younger; the one who had this magic and drew others to her, and when you actually got to know her better realized she was a decent human being and not “cool” in the cruel sense of the popular crowd. I was not cool in any sense of the word. I was smart and nice and survived middle school by trying to blend in and fending off the popular kids with humor. Lily is one of the cool girls, in the best of ways.
As she gets older, I worry about a lot of things.
I let her watch too much Netflix and YouTube and don’t make her do enough chores. I’m worried about hormones and trying to deal with my own as well as hers (AND her sister’s, eventually). I want her to learn self-sufficiency and responsibility and how to navigate through difficult situations. I worry about eating disorders and self-esteem and the middle school years to come. I worry about that spark being beaten out of her through peers and experiences.
I want to explore the world with her and give her more perspectives to think about. I want to spend time volunteering somewhere with her. I want to cultivate and encourage her passions without being overbearing. I want her to love riding the carousel for much longer than she most likely will, and want to continue taking her there for as long as she asks. She always gets the gold ring. And she usually saves it for when her sister wants to ride again. Because that’s what cool girls do.
And then the other night, while tucking her in, she asks, “Mama, what’s a crush?”
I shut down my internal monologue and simply answered, “It’s when you like someone and you want to spend more time with them because they make you happy.”
“Well then,” Lily responded, “Mama, I have a crush on you! Snuggle with me for a little bit?”
Lily recently turned 12 years old and I continue to notice not so subtle changes taking hold.
For her birthday party, a group of girls met at the mall to wander around for a couple of hours and then I paid for them all to ride on these ridiculous, child magnet, stuffed animals on wheels that go about 2 miles per hour, for ten minutes. We ate pizza and cake (she picked a flying pig version this year for me to make) and the girls did pretend shots of their fizzy drinks. We made friendship bracelets and they summoned spirits with the Ouija board and sang karaoke. The girls watched movies and stayed up most of the night. They slept in and all dined on waffles before heading home.
At one point during the party, half of the group were sitting around the kitchen table and the other half were in another room fooling around with a play kitchen set. The group at the kitchen table discussed rumors about someone in their grade having had sex, and if it could possibly be true, and who else it might possibly be, and who else had made that jump. The group in the other room pretend-shopped and pretend-made dinner. I sat in the living room, quietly observing, and intently working on my own friendship bracelet.
I still think about this moment, months after the party has passed. Lily is in the crux of becoming a pre-teen, reaching the middle of abandoning her childhood, absorbing information left and right, but still processing things as a kid. Sixth grade was somehow miraculously smoother than fifth, which has left me petrified and convinced that the shit will hit the fan in seventh grade. I still worry about, and want, similar things that I did a year ago.
I worry mostly about our communication drastically changing. I worry about hormones and emotions and depression and the complicated drama that can ensue at this age. I try to remind myself that her seventh grade experience won’t be exactly what mine was, but I know that she is on the turning point to something entirely brand new. I worry about taking her actions and behavior too personally instead of realizing that she is going through an incredible change and being able to support her even when she storms off and slams a door.
Our conversations have become more grown-up. We frequently discuss topics such as gender and sexual identity, periods, the dispensary next door to my house, sex. She consistently sends me YouTube videos to watch, navigates any kitchen in a comfortable and laid-back manner (schnitzel? chocolate chip cookies? you got it!), loves cuddling on the couch, and is pursuing a passion in photography. She is still that cool girl I always wanted to be when I was younger; she just wants more rides to the mall now.
I should inquire if maybe we can walk down to the carousel next week when her sister will be out of town. And the snuggles at bedtime? Those will always be welcomed with open arms.