My daughter is turning eleven next week. Let me just say that again, because I’m not really sure that I wrote that right. My daughter is turning ELEVEN next week. Yup. It’s right. Let’s put aside the fact that I can’t believe I’m old enough to have an eleven year-old, and let’s focus on what this means. Namely, that my daughter is turning ELEVEN.
Let me tell you about some of the things that I did when I was eleven. When I was eleven, I French kissed a boy. It happened in a closet during a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven, and we kind of just stuck our tongues out until they touched. It wasn’t exactly a romantic kiss; it was more like we were clinking glasses in a toast, if the glasses were wet and warm and attached to the insides of our mouths. But still, even if we didn’t do it exactly right, the intent was there, and, did I mention that I was eleven?
When I was eleven, I smoked my first cigarette. I was down the shore, on the Boardwalk, hanging out with some sixteen year-old girls who had somehow convinced my parents that they could be trusted and even paid for keeping an eye on me and my brother. Instead, they tried to teach me how to smoke. They also encouraged me to flirt with a fifteen year-old boy for about an hour. I’ll never forget how he removed his arm from my shoulder and shouted, “YOU’RE ELEVEN?” when he asked how old I was. Yes, I‘d like to tell that boy now. I was eleven.
When I was eleven, at sleepaway camp, I wore bikinis to the pool with the hope that boys would look at me. When I was eleven, I prayed to get my period, and prayed even harder to get boobs. When I was eleven, I read Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. When I was eleven, I knew kids who drank beer.
Now, I know it was a different time back then, and that parenting in the 1980’s was something akin to benign neglect, and not the hovercraft experience that it is for us. My daughter is so much more supervised than I was, has so much less freedom, and seems so much younger than I did at the same age. I’m fairly certain she hasn’t smoked a cigarette, or French kissed a boy, or flirted with a fifteen year-old, or read Tiger Eyes. But then again, I’m sure my mom didn’t think that I’d done any of those things when I was eleven, either.
What’s funny though, is that, if someone told me that she had done any of the things that I did at eleven, I’d be SHOCKED. Shocked. But isn’t that always how it is? Don’t we always see our kids as different from how they really are? And after years of Parent-Teacher conferences, where we hear that our loud, rambunctious, sassy kids are so shy in the classroom and never say a word, or our shy, introverted kids are so funny and brazen, don’t we realize that our kids act completely different with us than they do with our friends?
And yet, it’s always a surprise when we find out that they’re not our little babies anymore. It’s always such a surprise to find out that they’re doing the same things and making the same mistakes that we did.
My daughter is turning eleven. I wish she could stay little forever, but she can’t. She’s turning eleven, and she’s growing up, and all I can do is sit by and hope that I’ve taught her well enough to make good choices, and hope that she’s comfortable enough to talk to me about them. My daughter is turning eleven. And the worst part of it is that, next year, she’ll be twelve.