• Lijing Cobb

Pre-teen attitude

My 10yo recently started receiving climbing instructions. She enjoyed both sessions tremendously, but it was torturous during drop-off both times. Her head dropped, shoulders droopy, long face, sour expression, and when spoken to, she’s looking elsewhere. I remember seeing a kid or two like this before, and I remember disliking it when I saw a kid like that. How did I end up with a kid just like this? What happened?

“You are meeting some of the people in that gym for the first time, and you are giving them this impression that this is who you are, like you don’t want to have anything to do with the rest of the world. But you are not this person. You are so much more. Why do you put on this face?” I ask her.

“I don’t know.” She shrugs her shoulders. “Maybe it’s just that it’s Monday.”

During the first drop-off, the instructor took a look at her and asked me under his breath, “Is she ok?”

“Yes, she’s perfectly fine.” I answered apologetically. “She’s actually a very happy person. Right now she’s just being a pre-teen.”

During the second drop-off, I had a brief exchange with the instructor again, during which he reported that he was able to break down the icy facade and get her to smile quite a bit last time. Yet again, she was moping.

This morning, after a long weekend, she got up with the alarm and walked into my office as usual. “Are you ready for school?”

“Not really.” She replied briefly, her face stoney and sleepy.

“It’s always like this, isn’t it?” I tried to sound cheery, and continued hopefully, “you are not ready now, and then you go in and start doing things with people, and you get energy then, and the rest of the day is fine, right?”

“No, not really.” She said flatly. “During lunch and recess I get energy. The rest of the day is just meh.”

For the last few school days, as soon as she got home, she’d eagerly show me a piece of writing she’s been working on with one of her friends. It’s written from the perspectives of three different characters, and describes the thoughts and emotions beautifully and chaotically storming the minds of these pre-teens.

“I have a lot of trouble falling asleep at night, mom.” Sometimes she would complain.

“You should go to sleep earlier. You have bags under your eyes again. You look so tired.” I say to her often.

“Saturday is my only day of rest. I want to bake an apple pie and apple sauce bread, and do nothing else mom!” While I tried to get her to go skating on Saturday, she replied thus.

“Do I really need to go climbing today? I thought you said the appointment can be canceled!” Half an hour before her climbing session, she suddenly changed her mind about going.

“Can you help me take this package into the store? I have to carry another one and won’t have hands for this one.” I ask her in front of the UPS store.

“Ugh. Really? I have to do it?” She answers. So I ask my son to help. She feels terrible and drags herself into the store after us.

“Why have you been so lazy these days? Why is it that you have so much attitude coming out of nowhere? What’s going on?” I find myself asking her quite often these days. It’s hard to believe that this is my daughter! The studious, happy, helpful, kind, and caring kid must still be somewhere in there. She couldn’t have vanished overnight. It’s just not possible.

So I realized that we are dealing with the impossible here. I finally confront the word hormones for the first time in my parenting life. I see that while hormones rage internally in my soon-to-be 11yo’s body, changing her faster than I care to accept, the outward manifestations of the impact are by no means just physical. Could it be that she is just tired? Could it be that she just needs more rest than usual? Could it be that she needs more understanding at this critical juncture of her life? Could it be that somewhere in her she feels like she’s been wrenched away from her childhood and pushed into a more grownup world for which she is not yet ready? Could it be that she feels more grownup and wants to be treated as such, granted with more self-agency, and not treated as a child who must be supervised at every turn?

Change is inevitable and sometimes it is hard to recognize that the time has come to adapt and move on. My daughter is morphing into a new phase of existence, and the disharmony we have been experiencing results mainly from my failure to acknowledge the arrival of the new phase. Business as usual no longer applies here. I buy her clothing from the women’s section now: can it be more obvious?

Her alarm just went off. The tune she sets is a song called “A Woman Like Me.”

Come on, mom. Take a hint.

So I walk her down the driveway and initiate a little conversation.

“You know we talked about your attitude yesterday…” I start. Her body tightens, she looks away.

I push on: “I realized that I could be wrong. I realized that it’s possible that you are acting this way simply because you are tired.” Her body language is softening, and she starts to turn her head in my direction.

I continue: “So from now on, I’m going to cut you some slack. If you need to rest because you are tired, then just tell me and you can rest.” She’s looking at me now, her eyes filled with gratitude.

“One thing we do want to pay attention to is to not confuse being lazy with being tired. Because time is precious, and we don’t want to spend time on being lazy. But rest is important when you are tired. You are doing so much, and I want you to feel that you have the energy to manage it all.” I finish.

She nods her head quietly. Her face is soft, and her body completely relaxed.

A little bit of understanding goes a long way. The clues are everywhere for the riddle. I just need to pay attention to collect them all and put them together.

Yesterday was international poetry day, so my 10yo wrote something to honor that day. Tomorrow is puppy day, so we are going to have to see a puppy.

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