Today she wears deep plum nail polish, and when we leave for school I notice she is wearing her hair over to the side, exposing the milky-white flesh of her 12-year-old neck. I want to cover it up, but I don’t say anything. Instead, I think, It’s normal. She’s exploring her identity. This is what tweens do.
But then she wants to wear a short skirt to school. I make her wear shorts underneath it. I stare at her long, thin legs. Did I wear short skirts in sixth grade? Yes, I remember I had a mini-skirt in sixth grade. I begged my mom for it until she finally gave in. It was blue and grey. But I also wore tights and leg warmers with it. And it was 1983, not 2017.
The next day she wears eyeliner. I panic a little, but think, No biggie. This is a time for exploration and trying new looks. But, really, I think she is doing this for a boy.
The week of her 13th birthday she tells me she has a boyfriend. Did I have a boyfriend at 13? I liked a boy named Jimmy Hart. He didn’t like me. I kissed someone whose name I can’t remember when I was 15. I had sex for the first time when I was 16 with a different boy I thought I loved. After it was over, he told me I wasn’t his first. He had already had sex with his neighbor when he was 14. He was happy, but didn’t ask how I felt. We broke up two weeks later. I don’t want that for her.
We have a talk about the birds and the bees. Or rather, I attempt to talk about it. She interrupts me and says, “I already know, Mother. We talked about it at school.” I go through the process anyway. She tells me her best friend started her period, and I try to remember when I started mine. I’m pretty sure I was 15. I was a late bloomer. Maybe she will be too.
We sit on the couch together and watch reruns of Master Chef, Jr. She doesn’t feel well, and when I stretch out, she lies down on top of me like she used to when she was little. She’s as long as me, and I think that our awkward position and skinny bodies will be uncomfortable, and she’ll get up, but she doesn’t. She falls asleep with her head on my chest and her long arms and legs draped over mine.
The next day she feels better, and she is wearing perfume and lip gloss when she leaves for school. My heart aches, and I wish we could go back in time: not all the way back, just to the night before when I was able to hold her while she slept and feel the slow rise and fall of her chest. Instead, I give her the backpack resting in my hands and walk her to the door. There is a quick kiss and a quick goodbye, and she runs to meet the friend who has started her period. Her hips carry her with confidence to the end of our street, and as she turns the corner, I see her flip her long, auburn hair to the side.