Somewhere during the first week of school, I noticed that my daughter was not acting like herself. “Herself” is usually (not always, but usually) a bubbly, happy, confident, energetic kid who generally tends to let things roll off her back.
But during that first week of school, she seemed more sensitive than normal; she was getting upset at little things and she was crying a lot. I mentioned it to a few of my friends, but nearly everyone had the same response: it’s the first week of school, it’s a lot of change, they’re all tired, she probably misses camp, it’s an adjustment period.
Okay, I thought. I can live with that. Even though she’s never tired. Even though it’s never taken her more than five minutes to adjust to anything. Even though camp ended nearly three weeks ago. I tried not to over-analyze, though. My plan was to just see what happens.
What happened was not much. The second and third weeks of school were more or less the same as the first. It wasn’t anything alarming, mind you – I wasn’t worried that she was on drugs or anything like that – it was just subtle changes in her behavior. Where last year, a joke about her hair being messy in the morning would have gotten a laugh, now it got watery eyes and a shuffle off to her room to fix it. Where last year an accusation of meanness by her brother would have solicited an eye-roll, now it caused tears and a slammed door.
I tried talking to her. Is anything going on at school? Are you having problems with your friends? Do you feel like you’ve got too much on your plate? Is fourth grade homework too overwhelming? Through tears, she insisted that everything was fine. Then what’s wrong? I finally asked her. How come you’ve been crying so much lately? Her answer: I don’t know why I’m crying.
If there were ever six words in the English language that resonated more with me, I don’t know what they could possibly be. Okay, maybe “I need a drink right now.” Or, “I must buy some new shoes.” Then again, “I’m not answering to ‘mommy’ anymore” could be another. But anyway, the point is, with “I don’t know why I’m crying,” the kid was definitely speaking my language. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I utter those very words at least once a month, and usually around the same time each month, if you catch my drift.
It was one of those classic, smack-yourself-on-the-side-of-the-head, I Should Have Had a V-8 Commercial moments. She wasn’t tired, or adjusting, or missing camp. She was hormonal. Oy.
Now, the kid is only nine. I know some girls do start that early, but given that she has no other signs of puberty, I don’t believe we’re in menstruation territory quite yet. What I was thinking is that there had to be some kind of early, pre-period hormone phase, and sure enough, when I sat down to Google “hormones in nine year old girls,” I found an article about pre-puberty, which “typically begins in girls between 8 and 9 years old, or three to four years prior to their first period.” Well, hello.
And guess what? Under the section titled “hyper hormones,” it explained that, in pre-puberty, the hormones “are active, but not yet in synch. The discombobulated hormones are like ping-pong balls firing away…sensitive feelings, crying, attitude problems and moodiness can all come into play.” Uh, bingo.
Around like, fifteen minutes later, my daughter had another one of her inexplicable crying jags, this time with my husband.
I heard them yelling at each other in her room. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked her, dumbfounded. “I don’t know!” she shouted. “I don’t know why I’m acting like this! I can’t help it, and I don’t like it!”
I thought of the many, many times I’d said virtually the same thing to my husband, and I knew he wasn’t going to understand it with her any better than he understood it with me. I went into her bedroom and found her standing there, sobbing, while my husband looked on, completely freaked out. I got down on my knees so we could be face to face, and I took her hands in mine. I explained the situation. I told her about the ping pong balls. I let her know that it’s normal, and that if she thinks this is bad, she should just wait until she gets pregnant for the first time.
I was worried that the information might scare her, but if anything, she seemed relieved to know that there was a reason for the way she felt. She hugged me, and I hugged her back, hard. “I get it,” I whispered into her ear.
I totally get it. And, I thought, God help us all in a few years, when she gets it, too.