“You’re pulling too tight.”
This is from my 11-year-old daughter, the hair expert, as I struggle to MacGyver her hair into a serviceable French braid using only my fingers, three hair ties, and a paperclip. This is also a delight to hear. Usually I hear different criticisms, such as that I’m not pulling tight enough or that it doesn’t “feel pretty” when she touches it with her fingers (because I refuse to give her a mirror so she can examine my efforts—I’m no dummy).
It’s the start of a new year in her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class, which she takes with her seven-year-old younger brother. We’ve gotten lucky so far in that they’re both each other’s favorite person—they like me and their father, but they LOVE each other.
At least right now.
Already I see a slight change coming that they’re both completely unaware of. She loves to show him the ropes of the class—and is a (surprisingly) patient instructor—but she’s starting to be old enough to be embarrassed by his child-like antics.
For example, he has the nerve to make airplane noises as he runs back to position. She rolls her eyes, takes her turn on the mat, then does a few extra cartwheels for good measure, having so soon forgotten her own airplane noises that are only a few years gone.
It’s a juxtaposition I can’t help but notice, as she moves on from wanting the simple goofy games that still entertain him, but wanting space for more intellectual pursuits, like reading or puzzles he has no patience for.
I see it in the way she smiles a little too long at the cute jiu-jitsu instructor and in the self-assured way she opines that “black belts don’t know EVERYTHING, you know…”
Yet, she still has the childish blinders of youth that I’m grateful for. When she puts the older teenage boys in a rear-naked choke that they have to tap to get out of (i.e., openly concede the match), she has no clue that she’s doing anything extraordinary. For the boys, it’s a guy’s sport, and to get their butts handed to them by a younger girl is, I’m sure, not the way they’d like to spend a Tuesday night. In her view, though, she’s just executing a move. Nothing to see here—move along, move along.
And that’s the way my tween daughter has handled every new phase she’s entered. With no fan-fare, no trumpets, no resounding door slamming closed on her past. It’s a quiet, slow process; an oozing of maturity that colors an otherwise goofball personality.
It’s an interesting time, as a parent, to see the changes occurring.
She’s still a clown when playing with her brother. But she’s maturing out of Little Girldom and into something grander. I’m filled with dread by the stories my friends tell of their kids’ teenage antics. But while we’re edging closer to those years, we’re not there yet. And so far, her new phase is the coolest phase she’s been in since the last coolest phase she had.
She still has time for Mom-cuddles and still needs help identifying past participles. She does chores with enthusiasm (!!) and enjoys being the Smart Older Sister™️ to her brother’s young friends. But she’s more aware of things now than she was before, and that’s okay, too. (She told me yesterday that her brother’s Axe body soap makes him “smell like a man.” She’s definitely a product of successful marketing.)
I’m looking forward to what’s coming—even if I can’t get her French braid just right and probably never will—because I know that it’s all part of the process. And I choose to embrace it.
I’m not tapping just yet.