My daughter Alice is almost ten, and overnight she’s become a tween. She talks on the phone. She plays video games instead of My Little Ponies. Even the smell of her hair and the feel of her body when she curls up next to me for story time are different than they were. It’s the difference between a kitten and a cat, a child and — not a woman yet, but something new: a girl.
She’s been asking about puberty lately, so I gave her a book, It’s Perfectly Normal.
I also gave her this little speech: “There’s a lot of information in this book. If there’s something you don’t understand or something that seems weird or scary or if you need more information, you can ask me or ask your dad. None of this stuff is embarrassing to us, so don’t worry about it. But if you don’t want to ask us, you can ask your aunt or uncles or Stephanie or Abbie.”
As I listed the other adults in her life, I felt a huge sense of relief. In the overwhelming responsibility of helping Alice grow up, her dad and I aren’t alone.
We were the first of our friends to have a baby. Alice’s birth was a pretty big change for us and for the artsy single party-people who were our chosen family. We chose “godparents” for Alice without any religious significance.
The idea was that she should have a couple of trustworthy adults in her life who would commit to loving her and mentoring her and taking an interest in her, not because they were obligated by blood, but by choice.
Her godmother sends her books for her birthday. Her aunt and uncle take her out when she’s had a hard week. Right now, the adult she most admires is my friend Stephanie with whom she shares a love of Doctor Who and obscure dog breeds and a certain fretfulness each of them is more comfortable expressing than I am.
Stephanie talks to Alice like a friend, but she’s good with boundaries. Most importantly, I know Alice trusts Stephanie and I can too.
It’s a gift — the greatest one you could give a parent, I think — to be kind to their children, to like them, and to take your role in their lives seriously.
As my baby grows into this new, beautiful, moody, long-legged creature, I know she will have questions I can’t answer, problems I can’t solve, fears I can’t comfort.
I know our friends won’t be able to solve all these problems either, but I’m enormously grateful that I’m not alone in this new stage of our lives, and neither is Alice.