“Please don’t tell my friends I still watch Paw Patrol. They say it’s for babies and I know it is, but I still like to watch it.”
The words were barely audible from the not-so-tiny body sprawled next to me on the couch one Saturday morning. We’d lain like this watching cartoons many times over her 10 years of life, but this was the first time anything serious joined us.
I looked down at her golden hair and smattering of freckles across her nose. I wanted to say I was shocked they would say that and she shouldn’t care what they think, but it dawned on me at that moment, we had officially arrived at the in-between time of childhood. Those tricky years between being a kid and being a teen.
She’s a tween now.
Sometimes I forget she is closing in on the teen years and adulthood so quickly. She’s 10 years old, but in my heart, I still see a rosy-cheeked 3-year-old fluttering through my house with bouncing pigtails framing her tiny freckled nose. There are plenty of resources and talks about kids and teens, but these tween years are something else altogether.
I feel like I’m watching my precious girl teeter along a tightrope while I nervously follow underneath, ready to catch her if she falls. The hardest part is trying to predict when and where she will be when I catch her. Will we curl up with Paw Patrol or will she want to talk about jewelry and hair? Maybe we’ll play Barbies or maybe we’ll go shopping like a couple of friends. Will she be my little girl or my young woman? It changes so quickly.
As maddening as it can be on my end, I know her little mind is working overtime and frustrating her as well.
I remember the feeling of tug-of-war in my own mind at her age, as Rainbow Brite begged for my attention but the lure of New Kids on the Block pulled strong in the opposite direction. Doing battle in your own mind with two worlds you have one foot in is exhausting. At a certain point, you don’t even know what you’re doing anymore.
I thought it would be easier on the parent side of the tween years struggle. Watching, waiting, and catching her wherever she fell seemed like a better position than the one up on the shaky wire. Yet, with every passing eye roll, secret “baby show” binge, and incomprehensible crying session I attend by her side, I see it’s not. I may have survived my own tween years but I’m still just as lost as she is in hers.
The golden hair is still there but flows freely over her shoulders now instead of being contained in curly pigtails. The freckles across her nose and skin flash poolside childhood days before my eyes until I focus again to see the tall lean body they now reside on.
Her body, mind, and my heart are all stuck in the middle of growing up—clinging to simpler days while tip-toeing toward the teen years.
I wish there was a fast-forward button to get us through this part quickly and easily. Or better yet, a rewind button so I could take her back to younger days when any problem could be fixed curled up on my lap. Instead, we just keep moving forward—her on shaky legs and me jumping to meet each stumble appropriately.
I wish I could tell her not to let the words get to her and not to worry, but I know I cannot. This is another step toward growing up, and we cannot skip it. All I can do is keep being her safe place. Whether it’s secret Paw Patrol watching, dealing with body changes, or enduring eye rolls every time I offer a suggestion to help. I know my sweet girl is in there, trying to find her way, and she needs to know I’ll never leave her side.
I want to tell her this part will pass, but it doesn’t seem like the time. Tonight, all she wants to do is curl onto me and sink back into a simpler time for us both. That’s OK too. With a brush back of her bangs, I lean in and whisper back, “The other moms think Paw Patrol is annoying, but I like it too. We’ll just watch it together.”
The feeling of her sigh as the weight of her current worry lifts off her is all the affirmation I need. We’re stuck in the middle, together, but we’ll make it through alright. All she needs to know is I will always catch her, no matter where she lands.