My daughter turns twelve tomorrow. Today I went to a jewelry store with a silver charm that I received for my own twelfth birthday. The jeweler cleaned the charm and placed it on a new silver chain. The charm is round and reads “Grown Up Twelve.” But I was not a grown up at twelve and neither is my daughter. She may stop growing soon, like I did when I was ten, but we were both still little girls at twelve, despite looking like women well before our time.
This soon-to-be-twelve-year-old is goofy, sentimental, taciturn, sometimes sullen, often sweet, and all things a twelve year old girl should be. She is occasionally secretive, but nowhere near as secretive as I was at her age. At her age I kept terrible secrets no child should know that planted in me the seeds of an overprotective mother. Over-protection may be a sort of sin in its own right, but I think it better than the harm I was dealt by practical strangers. I don’t allow my children time enough with strangers to collect secrets like those I kept, but the price of my hyper vigilance is their naivete. All things, including wisdom, have a price.
Ergo my youngest child is still angry at me that the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are not real and that I let her believe until she was well past eleven and into middle school. She had an unshakable faith in magic until I took it away. Now she kindles a burning belief in the power of imagination and the potential of science. I hope she never outgrows that. I hope I foster it for her.
For twelve years my husband and I have raised a daughter who is adored, sheltered, privileged, and has known no deprivation or lasting shame. It is in her nature to be tenderhearted. Recently she got in trouble for spilling makeup on our new carpet in our new house (the real trouble came from lying about it). When all was said and done she cried genuine tears, not for being caught but because she felt guilty for being so spoiled. A child with such a heart is not spoiled. A child who cries from the depths of her soul will break her mother’s heart.
So, I told her that no one, not even me, can label her spoiled. I told her she has a choice to make about her privilege. She can see all that she has been given and choose to appreciate it or choose ignore it. The first choice is to be blessed, the second is to be spoiled, but only she can decide which she is.
This, I suppose, is what “grown up twelve,” is – beginning to decide who you will become in the world you inhabit. I never lived in her world and I never knew when I was of such a tender age that I had any choices or control. I think the best gift I have given my daughter is the combination of guidance and freedom, even against my own protective nature, to decide for herself who and how she wants to be. I’ve never seen her as an extension of myself but as a whole separate person who I nurture but have never possessed.
Tomorrow I will pass along one of precious few material possessions I kept from my vastly different childhood. I held on to that charm for thirty years, most of them before I had a daughter, in the hopes that one day I would and one day she would turn twelve. Now, here we are. I cannot know if she will appreciate the charm against the abundance of what she already has and will yet receive. Regardless, she has taught me to have faith in the infinite possibilities of an honest soul, and now it is I who am blessed and privileged to see what she makes of this life that is entirely her own.