Monday, April 17, 2000

Happy birthday

Today, my daughter turns 10. We passed the landmark of with-us-as-long-as-she-was-in-the-orphanage last year at age 9, so this birthday is mostly significant for the double digits and the extreme nearness of puberty. The latter worries me especially because she is nearly as tall as I am already, and the thought of an insolent teenager towering over me is a tad terrifying.

So far, she's been nothing but a sweetie, and maybe that gentle disposition and useful eagerness to please will extend into her adolescence. She's two years behind in school--thanks to language delays, learning disorders, and several years frittered away in self-contained special-ed classrooms before making it into a mainstream group this year--so she may well hit her social transitions, if not her physical ones, with her now-2nd-grade classmates. Socially, emotionally, behaviorally, she's barely at an eight-year-old level.

And yet I feel the hot breath of approaching puberty on my neck. It's not just her size and her rapidly blossoming shape. It's not the fact that she already has her 12-year-old molars, a startling sign of physical advancement in a girl who's delayed in just about everything else. It's not even the Backstreet Boys and Brittany Spears CDs she's demanding, or the way she now prefers Nickelodeon to Nick Jr. and "Zoom" to "Barney."

It's more of an attitude thing. We're getting a little bit of sullen, a little bit of pouty, a hefty dose of "You talkin' to me?" She's more likely to argue with "no" and take our refusal to grant her every whim as a grave social injury. We are currently engaged in the battle of the "I must have a wheeled backpack because everybody has a wheeled backpack and if you don't give me a wheeled backpack you must be the meanest mom in the world." It's like a sneak preview of the world of inappropriate clothes and inappropriate activities and all those things teenagers have to do or suffer social death. I don't like it. Don't like the backpack, either.

Yesterday, though, I saw the first sure sign of hormone activity. Not body hair, not body odor (though goodness knows we've had that for a while), not body growth in significant spots. No, it was nothin' but the blues. My little girl had one of those weepy, blue days where you can't explain why you're crying but the tears keep coming anyway. Her father was annoyed that she kept tearing up for no good reason, and insisted that she was just holding back on the reason to tick him off. But I recognized the signs, all right. There is no reason. It just is. It's a girl thing. No--it's a woman thing.

Today, as she turns 10, we'll go to the pediatrician and get a more reliable ETA for the onset of adolescence. But I'm braced for it now. Time to start digging that moat, laying in those alligators, adding those bars to the windows and chains to the doors. She's going to be one big, beautiful teenager, and a mother's got to be prepared.

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