Tween a rock and a hard place

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Brooke Clubbs (Kristin Eberts)

When my oldest daughter, Eva, turned 9 last May, I took her to the pediatrician for her annual birthday check-up. As Dr. Brown was finishing the exam, she was asking me some routine developmental questions about Eva's school performance and sleeping habits. Then, she hit me with one I wasn't expecting. "When did you start your periods?" "Me? Oh, um, uh ... the summer before seventh grade. So I was ... 12?" She then told me that puberty often begins two years before periods start, so I should be looking for signs in Eva soon. Was the room getting smaller? Was it getting warm in here? Didn't I just lay down my 2-week-old baby Eva on that examining table over there and then worry I would look like an amateur because she pooped all over it when I took her diaper off? We talked about potty-training and got kindergarten shots in here -- how had we come to this so quickly?

In the months since that check-up, it has sometimes been easy to put our conversation out of my mind. Eva still loves to play Barbies and pretend she is running an office in her bedroom (complete with old rotary dial phone). Other times, reality smacks me in the face as she discusses who her friends think is "hot," and wonders why we don't think she is old enough to use Twitter and Facebook.

Eva is a tween.

While definitions for tweens vary, most sources report that they are between the ages of 9 and 13 and approaching puberty. Advertisers claim to have discovered tweens but, of course, kids between these ages have always existed. The advertisers just discovered them as a demographic for marketing. Tweens have buying power, as the success of all things Justin Bieber and Justice clothing stores would suggest. Some parenting experts think that this focus on marketing to tweens has resulted in them being pressured to leave childhood sooner and growing up too fast.

And there's the rub. The difference between growing up and growing up too fast. I want Eva to understand the developmental changes that are going to happen, but I don't want her to feel like she needs to change her personality because of them. I think this was exemplified when I took her to The Secret Keeper Girl Live event that happened in Cape this past fall. She loved learning about how to dress fashionably and modestly, as well as the meaning of true beauty. I decided to read some of the books written by Danna Gresh, the creator of Secret Keeper Girl. Based on Danna's advice, I had a talk with Eva about periods. And Eva was horrified. Even though I was trying to be upbeat and sort of scientific about it all. Even though she sometimes likes to act sophisticated and mature. She was thinking that growing up, especially becoming a woman, was a pretty lousy deal.

So, we're trying to walk down the path as long as possible before the roads of childhood and adulthood diverge. This is the path where you play with the Barbies you got on the same Christmas you learned the secret about Santa Claus. It's the path where you sing along with Taylor Swift on your karaoke microphone in your Disney Princess nightgown. It's the path where your mom talks to you about tampons and bras and saving yourself for marriage -- and then gives you a kiss and tucks you in before you fall asleep on your dolphin Pillow Pet.

Sometimes it seems more like a tightrope than a path, but Eva and I are finding our balance together.

Brooke Clubbs is a Jackson mom of three, a freelance writer and a communication studies instructor. As she navigates the tightrope of tweenhood with Eva, she juggles guiding her first-grader, Eli, into a world of words and braving the first outings without Pull-Ups for her 2-year-old, Lily.

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