Celebrating adolescence

My daughter is no longer a little girl. 

It sort of crept up on me. Yes, at 11, technically she’s a girl. She chatters about everything and nothing like a little bird outside my window. She giggles, she jumps and makes up dances on her trampoline. 

But she also shuts the door hard when she gets ready for school. I’m no longer allowed in the bathroom when she’s getting ready. And when we shop and she needs to try things on, I have to turn around and shut my eyes or at least pretend to be very busy rehanging the last outfit and not paying attention at all. 

She’s a little embarrassed and self-conscious about her changing self, and simply can’t verbalize why. 

I’ve noticed though. While I don’t want to embarrass her, I do have a long wish list of things I’d like to affirm in her. It struck me that I have no platform or ceremony that gives me reason to do that. 

 

Teens get a bad rap

We hear lots of negativity about the teen years. Movies that showcase their acts of rebellion. Moms that warn of the lack of communication from their former teens — grunts from sons, snottiness from girls. Stories of how someday, maybe someday in their 20s, we’ll get them back.  

I know this is all very real: Parenthood has dropped me off at the dark door of teen-hood in a son, and the fog of tween-hood in my daughter all at once.  

 

Rite of passage

But I refuse to be afraid. I’ve done a little research on adolescent rites of passage. There are quinceaneras for 15-year-old Latino girls. I have friends planning their daughters’ Bat Mitzvahs, booking photographers and helping their adolescents memorize meaningful religious texts. 

I admit, I have a bit of longing to incorporate something equally meaningful into my lifestyle. 

But I’m coming up short. 

Broader society doesn’t offer enough ways to give adolescents that kind of presentation to the world — something that affirms them — something that gives us a chance to show our trust in who they’re becoming (and our blessings to be who they need, or want, to be). 

 

Impromptu rituals

My little girl, who isn’t such a little girl anymore, needed a new article of clothing that she was never going to tell me she needed. 

I noticed, though, and I asked her if we could go shopping and make it a fun day. She was so upset with me, despite my desire to be delicate and respect her privacy. Her eyes welled with tears, her foot stomped defiantly and she wouldn’t look at me for the rest of the morning. She slammed the door and went off to the bus stop in a huff. 

After I got over myself and my hurt feelings, I made a decision no one else could make: I decided to go the mall find a few sizes of undergarments myself and bring the store to her. 

The cashier at the counter was so understanding. She informed me she regularly instructs moms how to measure daughters too embarrassed to come to the store (and get fitted by a stranger with a tape measure). 

My heart soared with affirmation. 

After I bought way more than she’d ever need, I walked hurriedly hoping to quickly get back to the car and think of a good way to present this shopping-at-home experience. 

Then I spied the Godiva shop. A cornucopia of chocolate covered strawberries sung out to me. My girl has a sweet tooth and has had an affection for strawberries ever since toddlerhood. Every May birthday we have a bowl full of them out for her friends, and we serve the leftovers over waffles the next morning.

I knew what I needed to do. Along with that fancy gold box, I left a note on one of my favorite notecards from home: I love the little girl you’ve been and the young lady you are becoming just the same.

I left the gift bag on her bed. 

I don’t have an official ceremony to offer, but I can make each of her growing-up moments something to celebrate — even with something small. 

And this time all I needed was a bagful of undergarments and six chocolate-covered strawberries.