Tuesday, May 01, 2001

The terrible tweens

When we adopted our daughter from Russia at age 4.5, we went through, as most parents do, a period of testing. Nothing bad, nothing scary--no fears of attachment or serious emotional problems. But certainly tearful protests at bedtime. Spirited debates on the palatibility of certain foods. Bouts of willfulness for no other reason than because she could. Maybe she was just enjoying the option of opposition, willfulness not being encouraged in an orphanage setting. Maybe she was frustrated by our lack of a common language. Maybe she was scared, and trying to control what she could. Or maybe, since she's always been about two years developmentally delayed, she was just going through the Terrible Twos.

Whatever it was, it faded, and she's mostly been a good girl since--my child who could be counted on to cheerfully do as she was told. In fact, she so liked doing what she was told that our main problem was that she had no idea what to do with herself if nobody was telling her. Far from being willful, she's sometimes seemed will-less. And so it's come as a surprise to her father and me to find her testing once again, at age 11, in a new-and-improved preteen way.

Still, she's not a bad girl. But we're starting to hear, when we ask her to do things, answers like "I'm not in the mood." "I'm not up for it." "Nooooooooooooooooo."

We're starting to hear a lot about what other mothers let their kids do. Have wheeled backpacks. Wear shorts when it's over 50 degrees. Do absolutely whatever they want.

We're starting to notice a reluctance to move just because we say to. It's almost to the point where I'm going to have to start counting for her like I do for her brother. But her brother has a laundry list of neurological reasons for his slowness to make transitions. She's just tuning us out. Because, you know, she's not in the mood to listen.

Now, in a way this is all good. It's developmentally appropriate, like her newfound obession with insipid pop music. Because of that, I'm willing to let her sit in her room and listen to CDs--she who until so recently was afraid to be in her room alone!--and do her homework to the soothing sounds of "Now That's What I Call Music 6." I'm willing to let her watch her little Nick and Disney Channel teen shows. And I'm happy that she's interested in what her peers are thinking and doing and watching. At the beginning of this school year, she was still loving Barney the dinosaur, so this is an improvement.

But when I say to something, missy, you snap to it. You're not a teenager yet. And no wheeled backpack. I don't care what the other mothers do. I'm not that other girl's mother, I'm your mother. No. I mean it.

It's going to be a very long decade.

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