Our oldest daughter is 12, going on 13. My relationship with her has always been the most challenging. Maybe this is because she was the oldest, so she’s the only one of our three kids who really remembers life before I came along. Maybe it’s because we have the least in common (I can’t believe she doesn’t like to read!). Maybe it’s because she reminds me so much of myself at her age, and how hard middle school was — sometimes I think we never really recover from the trauma of middle school. Whatever the reason, our relationship can sometimes be tough. She thinks I pick on her, and that I am the STRICTEST PARENT EVER SO MUCH STRICTER THAN ALL HER FRIENDS WHY CAN’T SHE STAY UP UNTIL 11 DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR LIKE ALL THE NORMAL PEOPLE. Etc. You know, normal 12-going-on-13 stuff.
She told my wife, a few days ago, that she doesn’t want the new baby. More specifically, she said she doesn’t want ME to have the “stupid thing.” She has some difficulty in saying, or even hearing, the word baby, so she has kind of named the baby the “stupid thing.” She seems to have formed pretty clear views on who’s fault it is that we’re having another baby (mine) and who has betrayed her by going along with this crazy scheme (my wife). And, she stated, in a matter-of-fact way, the other kids don’t want the baby either.
Last night, my wife and I were standing in the front yard “discussing” the difficulty that comes with raising a 12 year old, who is about to go into the 8th grade. We “discussed” the length of her shorts (too short!) and how it came about that she has an instagram account before she turned 13 (parental caving!), and how many hours per day she should be allowed to be on it (less than she is now!). We talked about my relationship with her, and then, we talked about her feelings about the baby. When my wife told me about the conversation they had, I got defensive. “Well, good thing a 12 year old doesn’t get to decide what size our family should be,” I snapped. You know, a really loving and compassionate reaction.
“We need to work through this with them,” she replied. I am making her sound really mature and level-headed here, which is of course annoying, because I’m the one telling this story, so I am supposed to be the one who comes across in a better light.
“I know,” I sighed. The kids are bound to have feelings about a new baby, and not all of them will be positive. My friends assure me that once the baby gets here, the kids will love him or her. I am not so sure. I think it will swing between extremes – she will sometimes love the baby, she will sometimes resent the hell out of the baby.
Then, she came downstairs and informed us that her windows were open, and could we please stop talking about her, because it was upsetting her.
We followed her into her room, where we discovered that she had changed out of the shorts that sparked the conversation.
“You didn’t have to change your shorts,” I said. “I’m caving, you can wear the shorts.”
“I just really don’t think they’re too short!” she said. “But it’s fine. Whatever.”
We ran through the things that we had been discussing, giving context to the shorts discussion, and the Instagram discussion. “What else did you hear?” my wife finally asked. “We need to talk about this, to make sure you understand what we were saying.”
“It doesn’t matter,” our daughter replied. “Talking about it won’t help. You’re not going to change your mind.”
“It will help,” we urged. “Just tell us. Even if we don’t change our mind, maybe you don’t quite understand what we were saying.”
“You don’t necessarily know all the background behind everything,” I told her. “You may think you heard one thing, but really we were talking about something completely different.”
“Something is still bothering you.” My wife said, “Just talk to us about it.”
“No,” she said. I wonder where she got her stubbornness from. “It won’t help. You won’t change your mind; I know you won’t. So I don’t want to say.”
This went on for some time, so I will spare you. Finally, my wife said, “I think she is talking about the baby, but I don’t really know, because she won’t say.”
“Is it that you don’t want the baby?” I asked her.
“Stop saying that!” she said, “I don’t want to talk about that stupid thing!” and she ran out of the room. So I guess, yeah, it was the baby.
In a way, she is right. Talking about it won’t change our mind.
Later in the evening, we went to pick out all the things we will need for the next member of our family, who happens not to be the baby, but to be a 7 week-old puppy named Meg, who we are picking up this weekend. For the first time in what felt like months, my tween-age daughter and I were laughing about things together. We both wanted the pink collar, everyone else wanted the green one. “We have the same fashion sense,” I said. “Come look at the baby kittens!” she said, dragging me across the store.
We joked about how much our cat, Bella, was going to HATE the new puppy at first. “I think they’ll be friends, though, once they get used to each other,” my daughter said. “Don’t you?”
“I do,” I said. We moved on from collars to gates for the doorways.
“This is so fun,” she said. “I just love picking out all this stuff.”
“You think this is fun,” my wife chimed in, “wait until we get to do it for the baby. It’s even MORE fun.” Our daughter didn’t respond, but she did smile, just a little. So I guess maybe talking about it helped a little after all.