28 JunI Have a Twelve-Year-Old Daughter: Life’s Good
I have children at several different stages of life. At the top end I have a son who is twenty-nine-years-old. At the bottom end I have a son who is ten-years-old. I have one child, a daughter, at a very special age—twelve-years-old. All the ages have something to offer, but at twelve-years-old this daughter has the mind of an adult and the heart of a child. It’s a beautiful thing.
I am lucky to be there as her father in this magical stage of her life.
“Dad, let’s do something fun.” This is her current mantra. I may be sitting in my writing chair trying to finish my novel or just coming in the door from a day at work. Her question never seems to come when I happen to be looking for something to do, too. But you know what? I try to take her up on this every time it’s remotely possible. I have already had two daughters pass through this stage and there is one thing for sure—it won’t last. Her hormone levels are already rising toward the floodgates and when they spill out she will rarely seek my companionship with such ease. “Grab your bike, Sweetie, let’s go for a ride. “
“Dad, you know what I hate?” Instead of being content with her own life and amusements like when she was a child, her gaze has turned outward. She has become aware of the bad behavior of others and the unfairness of life. The word “hate” makes me cringe and I’ve tried to help her re-engineer her language to “things I don’t like” or “things that bother me.” I tried a little too hard to do it too fast and I realized I was alienating her. She doesn’t tell others the things she tells me. She comes to me because she needs to express herself to someone and she trusts me. I’m not going to shut her down if she speaks imperfectly as she tries to make sense out of a confusing world. Just keep talking, daughter.
“And, Dad, she loves this older man.” I stood watering the garden while my daughter followed, hair dancing in the wind, telling me about “Jacob Have I Loved.” She reads voraciously—books like Bridge over Terabithia, Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Dicey’s Song. Then she comes to me and tells me about the books. I’m not talking about plot lines—she tells me about the character of the characters, the technique used by the author, what she likes about the book, and yes, what she hates about the book. We bounce words and ideas about these books back and forth like tennis balls or badminton birdies. It is delightful.
“You can come in, Dad.” She’s on her bed bawling her eyes out. She has exchanged “words” with her mother, or her sister, or her brother. She is impetuous and strong willed. More often than not she is able to send the other person to their room in anger or tears. When firing a gun there is recoil. Sometimes the recoil from her personality knocks her on her butt and she can’t figure out what happened. She is only twelve—a child, and yet, not a child. She doesn’t cry often, but when she does the sound of her sobbing in her room breaks my heart. It is sound of growing up.
“Dad, I don’t want to take dance anymore.” She has done so well and come so far. I scratch my head at this one. I learn that she likes dance well enough, but she’s uncomfortable with the other girls. She tells me that they are full of drama, are always jabbering about boys, and saying things about each other when backs are turned. When I question her further I find out that these girls also have qualities that she admires. I’m glad she can see the good beyond what she considers weaknesses in others. She will need that from others as she grows up. I’m secretly proud of her struggles with the other girls. It shows me she’s not a chameleon and doesn’t change colors to match who she’s with. She is a steady and dependable human being. I love that.
“Dad, you’re my best friend.” She has never actually said that, but her behavior screams it. It makes me the happiest man in the world. My love for her will not change, but only grow. I have only a few months left before my little girl dies and becomes a full-fledged young woman. The signs are all there. I’ve told her this is coming. She smiles, calls me silly, and tells me that it will not happen to her. I’ve been through this twice already and have beautiful adult daughters to prove it. It is heartbreaking to lose a little girl to adolescence. The knowledge that there is sweetness of another kind to follow makes it bearable. In the meantime, while she remains with me on this side of the childhood veil, we will go for our graveyard walk in the cooling evening after sunset.