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Wednesday, 27 June 2012 00:00

The fleeting years of childhood give way to a strange, new world

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 My daughter has arrived at an impossible age — impossible for her, impossible for me, impossible for her mother, impossible for her brother. If this age were a dinner, we’d send it back to the kitchen. If it were a car, we’d invoke the lemon law and demand another.

But there is just no escape clause, no warranty, no way out. She’s 11-years-old, and we’re all stuck with it.

What exactly does it mean to be an 11-year-old girl? I’m not sure anyone knows exactly, which is part of the problem.

My son is seven years old and I understand what that means. It means he wants to play video games and baseball all the time. It means he wants cotton candy for breakfast and ice cream for dinner and a funnel cake for dessert, but will settle for hot dogs and tater tots.

It means he wants a go-cart for his birthday and a monster truck when he gets his license. It means he doesn’t want his mother kissing him in front of his friends and that he considers socks and underwear optional, even on school days. It means that his bedroom floor is covered in Lego pieces, except for one tiny path from the door to his bed, which he can somehow navigate even in the dark.

These things present certain challenges, of course, but I’m okay with it with because a seven-year-old boy is an entirely predictable creature, and one can prepare for battle, when necessary, with a predictable creature. You see, the battles themselves are predictable. Yes, you must do your homework before you can play on the Nintendo. No, you may not give the dog your chicken casserole, regardless of how hungry he looks.

For the most part, I understand what it is to live in the world of a seven-year-old boy. But just across the hall — no more than seven or eight feet away — there is another world, a strange, new world where I do not speak the language, understand the customs, or possess the currency to make my way.

My daughter once lived here. When she was seven, she was every bit as predictable as my son is now. She loved stuffed animals and cartoons and dolls and playhouses. She wanted to help mom cook muffins and play dress up and chase butterflies in the afternoon and fireflies at dusk. She wanted to jump on the trampoline while I sprayed her with the garden hose. She wanted every stray animal we ever saw. She wanted to turn our home into Noah’s Ark.

For years, she pleaded with me to build her a tree house. She had read Winnie the Pooh and felt that her life might be perfect if only she had a tree house. We lived in town in those days and had a very small yard with no trees that would be suitable for a tree house, and I thought it was likely that the dream would pass, giving way to other dreams as she read other books and got a little older.

But it didn’t pass. Year after year she asked for a tree house, and it came to pass that we sold our house in town and bought one in the country, one with a bigger yard and room at last for a tree house.

Finally, I relented. We now have a very nifty tree house, one with a window, stairs, a tin roof, even a deck. In the past two years, she has been in it about three times. She has spent less time in it than it takes to watch an episode of “Dora the Explorer.” The tree house is vacant, though it did become a home for a family of owls this spring.

So what happened to my little girl? Some years passed. And then some more passed, as years will. Suddenly, she is 11. Now, instead of Pooh, she is reading Harry Potter books — she consumed the entire series like a handful of blueberries in a matter of a few weeks. She is developing an interest in music. She is developing an interest in technology. She is developing an interest in cooking. She is developing, period.

And yet, she is sometimes the girl we’ve always known. One minute she wants a Kindle or a Nook, and the next minute she wants a bunny rabbit. She still loves her dolls and stuffed animals. She still likes to play dress up, but now there’s a quality in it that makes me nervous, a quality of self-awareness replacing pure fantasy.

I guess what I am getting at is that in terms of age, she is not quite here and not quite there. She now has a frightening arsenal of smirks and moods that portends something even more frightening — adolescence.

I’d get her that bunny tomorrow, but it would probably wind up as a snack for the owls in the abandoned tree house. As soon as one of us figures out that metaphor, I’ll let you know.

(Chris Cox is a teacher and a writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

 

 

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