When I was in 4th grade I got an unexpected Valentine’s Day present. A boy in my class that I didn’t know so well realized that I was a fan of the Atlanta Braves. When everyone was going around the room, depositing pre-made cards from RichWay into paper-covered shoeboxes, he dropped a tissue-wrapped package on my desk. It was filled with an assortment of baseball cards. My face felt hot and I started to sweat. I asked to be excused to go to the restroom, where I panicked and dumped the package of baseball cards in the trash can. What if someone saw me with the cards? What if kids started talking? Something strange was coming at me like a freight train and all I could think to do was run.
I left that olive green tiled bathroom and pushed away all thoughts of those baseball cards – and the person who delivered them – and went back to my desk to fidget with my tiger Trapper Keeper and my Lisa Frank erasers.
That incident did not cross my mind again for 30 more years, until a few weeks ago when my daughter and I were talking about some details surrounding an upcoming social at school. I felt compelled to tell her my story. I was her age when I trashed the baseball cards. Her age when I had those awful bangs. Her age when hearing something mean being said about you when they thought you weren’t listening could crush your soul from the outside in. Her age when that can’t-put-your-finger-on-it disgruntled, uneasy feeling could bubble up at any moment. Gracious Father in heaven help me, because here we go…
They didn’t have the word “tween” when I was in fourth grade. “Tween” evokes visions of Disney Channel Zombie Cheerleader movies, Bonne Bell lip gloss, and trips to the Juniors department for some Byer Girl tops. But that seems a little bit on the glamourous side for what being a “tween” really entails. I remember hearing it referred to as an “awkward stage.” Closer, but I’m not even sure that covers it. Not sure you’re there yet? Here’s how to know:
1. You Suddenly Know Absolutely Nothing: I always thought that I would be a great mom to pre-teen and teenage kids because those years were especially tumultuous for me and I wrote absolutely everything down in my journal, making it a veritable manual for tween and teen angst. Trouble is, my kids think I’m so old that the only person saving a seat for me at the lunch table was Methuselah. And nobody is going to him for skincare tips.
2. Eyerolling Has Become a Standard Response: Like you, we tried to teach good manners from a young age. We were pretty dang proud of ourselves when our kids were two and three and they were saying “please” and “thank you” and “yes ma’am and “no sir”. Singing “Clean-up, clean-up” or “I’m a Happy Helper” was all we had to do for a couple of willing volunteers to help pick up pine cones or shuttle laundry to the appropriate drawer. Ask them to unload the dishwasher these days and the response will simply be a facial expression – you know the one. You’d think you were requesting that they make a left turn on Forest Drive on their bike during a hurricane at rush hour while eating worms. Horror! You must be a terrible parent. How dare you? They may even try to report you.
3. You Have Purchased Three Sizes of Tennis Shoes in 12 Months For the Same Kid: And it’s not just the sneaks. Those shorts from last year will most definitely not pass the fingertip test. This is just the beginning of the lose-lose scenario. You can either (A) purchase the clothing and shoes and bring it home for them to try, in which case they will casually throw the $300 stash on their bed after removing all tags, only to holler and wail the next morning that it all fits weird and you have absolutely no taste. Or, you can (B) take them to the store for some basic (fingertip length appropriate) shorts and tops and end up arguing over everything in the dressing room, returning home with only a couple of bangle bracelets and a straw fedora. Either way, your mornings do not look good.
4. Your Prayer List Has Expanded to Include Your Village : Forget getting up 15 minutes early do you a quick devotional before you hop in the shower. Your prayer list now not only includes your spouse, children, and those in need, but also your kids’ teachers and their sanity, all 25 of your sitters and their sanity, your kids’ friends and their parents’ sanity, your kid’s future spouse and their parents’ sanity, your marriage and its ability to provide a haven of sanity at least some of the time (pretty please!), and a quick praise for the lovely person who delivered your groceries from Shipt. Bless!
5. You Are Now Second Fiddle: Friends are life to a tween. Which also means when something goes wrong in this delicate ecosystem of unstable emotions, their life is utterly disrupted. This may mean that you get to go out to dinner as a family on a Friday night. However, try to talk to them about whatever it is that is bothering them and you will be told that you have no idea what you are talking about (see #1).
6. You Are Figuring Out Their Boundaries and Freedoms: They call it “tween” for a reason: It is that time in between being a child and a being a teen. They want not make their own decisions about friendships and who they spend time with, but they are still relying on you to schedule it. They have places they want and need to go but they are still relying on you to get them there. They still need supervision after school and when you go out at night (do not call this a babysitter, please) but it won’t be long before they are the one that someone is calling to watch their kids (yikes!).
I should have taken the baseball cards and smiled and said thank you, but the truth is that I would have run for the trash can even if Ricky Schroeder (of 1980s Silver Spoons stardom) had hand-delivered the baseball cards to me himself. Ten is ten. Ten is tween. Ten is simply no one has a freaking clue. I think it is going to take a lot of nights of being told that you have no idea what you are talking about before they realize that you are actually listening, and that you have been there all along.
Kelly Barbrey would like to extend a formal written public apology to her mother for simple fact that she was once a tween. Thanks, mom, for sitting on my bed all those nights for all those years listening to me wail. I turned out okay (I think). And sorry I never told you about the baseball card ordeal. It was just too much to verbalize at the time. You probably could have given me some pretty good advice that I wouldn’t have listened to. 💁🏼♀️