When your kids are little and innocent, they add an extra y sound to the end of words. Dog becomes “doggy.” A pig is a “piggy.” And their favourite blanket might be referred to as “blankie.”
As they grow up, they drop the y sound. It can be a little painful to say goodbye to that sweet and adorable stage. But nothing is more gut-wrenching and soul-crushing than the day your daughter drops the y at the end of “Daddy” and just starts referring to you as “Dad.” Because shortly after that, it will likely morph into “Dad” with a sarcastic tone. As in, “Daaaaaad, you don’t need to walk me all the way to the front of the school.” Or, “Daaaaaad, your jokes are so lame.” Or my personal favourite, “Daaaaaad, I never want to see you in your underwear again.”
And that is the moment you realize that your daughter has entered her tween years—and she’s not coming back. You’ve lost her to a bizarre world of Taylor Swift, sparkly lip gloss and Internet cat videos. Oh, and you’ve probably also lost her to an iPhone or iPod touch, which allows her and her tween friends to text each other incessantly about what picture-editing apps they’ve recently downloaded. “OMG. I totes turned you into a lemur using my cat-person app. LOL” is one of the texts I may have accidentally read.
Even when I try to enter this little world, I come off looking like an out-of-touch 38-year-old loser. “I’ve had a cellphone since 1999, I’m all over this tech stuff,” I foolishly think to myself. And then I’ll send my 10-year-old daughter a winking smiley face via text and receive nothing in reply.
“Hey—what did you think of that emoticon I sent you two weeks ago?” I ask her.
“Daaaaaad, nobody calls them emoticons anymore. They’re emojis!” she responds with an eye roll. The beauty of tweens is that they haven’t quite perfected the eye roll of a full-grown teenager yet, so at first, you’re concerned she might be having a seizure when she tries this move.
When you really stop to think about it, tween girls are like robots that are slowly becoming self-aware. They care about their hair and appearance, but thankfully, still consider boys to be somewhat gross. They like to carry around small purses, but have no idea why they are doing this. I recently checked the contents of my daughter’s purse and found four lip glosses, a library card and a bunch of friendship bracelets. (Do tweens still call them “friendship bracelets”? I’m actually afraid to ask for fear of a tween tongue-lashing.)
Things have changed in our household. I now have to knock before entering her bedroom. Her friends don’t come over for “playdates,” they just come over to “hang out.” And she suddenly has an innate desire to head to the mall on Friday nights.
I recently took her and one of her besties on a trip to the mall. (By casually dropping terms like “besties,” I have a better chance of connecting with the elusive nine to 12 demographic.) I had to make sure I walked about 10 metres behind them as they laughed and giggled their way around the stores. However, when it came time to hit the food court, they suddenly didn’t seem to mind that my wallet and I were in such close proximity, because they realized their purses were fairly useless at this point.
My daughter and her friends have even starting using makeup for fun—though they often look like they are enrolling in clown college by the time they are done with each other. I don’t allow my daughter to leave the house wearing makeup, a rule I’d like to enforce until she is 38 herself.
But I know that in a few years, I really won’t have a choice. Puberty will set in and there will be all those hormones to deal with—not to mention trips to the drugstore that won’t involve me. She’ll be a full-fledged teenager and will rebel against me by getting a piercing and using the majority of my family’s data share plan.
And if, at that point, she’s still only referring to me as “Daaaaaad”—and not something worse—then I suppose I’ll look at it as a minor victory.