It’s the age they turn into aliens
July 24, 2003
My husband and I sat in a local lawyer’s office recently, and the conversation turned to our children. His children have morphed out of teenager-hood and are becoming responsible young adults, he told us.
When we updated him on our daughters’ ages of 15 and 12, he wisely counseled us that all kids turn into aliens for a while.
I appreciated this explanation of adolescent behavior, because I had already experienced some alien conduct with our older daughter. What I didn’t bargain for was that shortly after I sat in this office chuckling over alien teenage behavior, would my 12-year-old launch into this stage a few weeks later.
Some of you may think, “Now don’t make your 12-year-old out to be a teenager before she really is one.”
After all, at 12, she’s still a young girl. I assure you, teenage alien behavior is not something I would encourage to develop. She is morphing into a young adult all on her own, without any help from me. It’s just another instance in my life where I have no control.
The most noticeable thing that’s happened lately is that all of a sudden, my younger daughter is embarrassed by me! This is such a surprising turn of events in my journey of parenting, that I’ve decided I need to spend some time processing what’s going on.
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Wow, how could I be embarrassing to be with? I’m pretty cool, I like to think. I don’t wear pants pulled tight with a belt halfway up my midriff. I don’t have two left feet or use handkerchiefs. I don’t weigh 400 pounds.
I did comment in my last column that my children would never choose to wear clothing identical to me. What I failed to add was that I wouldn’t choose to wear their clothes either. Tight, low-slung pants and belly shirts would look silly on me. My daughters and I do share some clothing, like shoes. Maybe I should ask them if they find this embarrassing as well.
A big heads-up to this issue surfaced for me last week when my husband and I took our younger daughter to camp. As we walked up the path to the camp registration desk, I noticed a huge wild thistle growing along the walkway.
It was just like the thistles we have growing beside our driveway except the color was different. I had just read that thistles, like woolly mullein and fireweed, which we also have a lot of, like to grow in “disturbed” areas.
We have a lot of disturbed areas on our property considering the fact that we moved the earth around when we built our house a few years ago. Anyway, these thistles were bright pink, and ours here in Truckee are purple, so upon expressing this very interesting fact, which turned out to be obviously only fascinating to me, I noticed my lovable 12-year-old immediately launching into body language that expressed extreme discomfort at my weirdness. She rolled her eyes and pleaded for me to stop embarrassing her with a simply expressed “M-o-o-o-o-m-m!”
Oh dear. How could she so quickly morph out of her sweet self into a child who now loathes her parents?
I guess the situation was especially horrifying for her considering that this all happened while she was ever so self-consciously sizing up her situation with swarms of potential new friends all around her. There she was, with both of her adoring parents, because at age 12 she certainly can’t drive herself to camp. Meanwhile, her dad and I were so thrilled for her because she’s about to spend a great week at camp, and there’s our morphed child, dreading the fact that someone might find out that her mother is interested in things that grow in the wild. And to make matters worse, I was announcing out loud how these thistles were a completely different color a mere 50 miles north of Truckee.
It’s all so crushing for a mother.
I do need to tell her that when she is embarrassed by me, that my feelings get hurt, but I also know that this is just another step on her road to independence, and that it’s her job to break away. And it’s my job to understand that she can’t possibly separate herself if she doesn’t identify with her peers over her parents, even if it’s done at the expense of letting us know how completely mortified she is to be with us sometimes.
I know I did the same thing to my parents, and they took it with good humor.
It’s just that I never expected my 12-year-old to start behaving like an alien so soon.
It just starts happening and as a parent, it’s taken me by surprise.
Katie Shaffer is a Truckee resident. Life in Our Mountain Town appears every other week in the Sierra Sun.