She was homesick, she said. I miss my bed and my dog and hugging you and Dad before going to sleep, she told me as I dropped her off at her grandparent’s house.
She and her brother were staying there while we pulled down sheet rock and got rid of 60+ year old insulation. We didn’t want them exposed to that stuff and the possible lead paint from the original walls. Her grandparents live in the same town, their house is as much hers as her own, yet she wants, craves, that comfort of the familiar.
She’s my baby girl, just turned 12, sweet and innocent. Growing up, but still my little girl inside.
Mom, she whispers close to my ear, can I talk to you? She eyes her brother and father from across the room.
I know that look, the sidelong glance at the men of the house. This is to be a female discussion. Private.
Sure, I say, and we head off to sit on the deck, hand in hand.
You know, she begins, long skinny legs kicking back and forth as she sits across from me, tendrils of long blond hair glowing in the sun, next year I have to change for gym. You have to in 7th grade.
Her gray-green eyes have that look in them, the one that says this is not something she’s looking forward to but is curious about.
Yep, I say, I know. We’ll get you a set of gym clothes and a gym bag.
Cool, she says. Her lips purse and her eyes track a bird as it zips over to peck at the feeder. Do I have to get naked in front of everyone? You know that kind of thing makes me nervous.
My girl is an expert at verbalizing her inner turmoil, she knows how she feels inside and wants to explore it.
No, you keep your underwear on, unless you want to take a shower, I say. Then, well, I don’t think you want to wear wet panties the rest of the day.
She giggles and nods, taking that in. Her legs kick some more.
I’m not looking forward to changing for gym, she says. Why do they make us do that?
I really don’t know, I say. (Because I don’t.) I guess it’s because the activities require more effort, kids your age sweat more and this way your clothes won’t get ruined from the sports and body sweat. Teenagers can smell bad. (really, I don’t know the answer to this question, so logically, this is the best I can come up with)
I’ll need new deodorant, she says.
You got it, I say. You can pick out the scent. And the clothes.
Do I have to take gym? She asks. I mean I like gym, but I really don’t want to change my clothes in front of everybody. It’s kind’ve icky.
Oh, pumpkin, I think to myself. I get it, I really do.
Girls are cruel and middle school locker rooms are surely the devil’s own playground. If I could spare you this step I would but somehow I think you’ll be better for it. That’s not saying much as I had successfully avoided mine with a physical excuse from gym from grade 6 through high school. No such luck for my baby girl.
You know, I say, your friends will be there and it will get easier. You just have to worry about yourself, no one else. Have you spoken with your girls about it?
She nods. Lizzy isn’t looking forward to it either, she says.
I bet, I respond. But just think, you guys can talk about it before hand and figure out the best way to handle it. And once the first few days go by, it’ll be just what you do.
Do you think I can, here she pauses, hesitates, her eyes looking up at me and then down again, an odd anticipation in her gaze, you know, shave my legs this summer? The hair on them is longer now and it doesn’t stay flat anymore.
My heart stutters. I know this kind of thing is coming, she’s 12, yet so far her puberty development hasn't come into play that much yet, other than that whip sharp brain and mouth. I look at those gangly legs, the legs that have gotten longer the past month or so and seem to travel all the way to her armpits.
She’s right I see. Those legs are covered in wispy blond hairs, hairs barely visible they are so pale. But they are long now.
I sigh, quietly, so she doesn’t see how this stage, this step, takes her one step away from being that homesick baby girl and turns her into my young lady. It sends a sweet ache, a melancholic arrow through my heart. These moments, these little steps to womanhood, they're coming and I can't do anything to stop this sweet little girl from growing up. I don't want to, not really, because I can't wait to see the woman she'll become, but oh, it's an ache, a loving one, in my heart, as she begins to fly away, just like the birds we like to watch together in the back yard.
You betcha, I say, smiling at her, seeing her smile in return. How about we try that thing that rubs the hair off? You know the one you said you saw on TV the other day?
She perks up, all hesitancy leaving her face, the anticipation of leg hair removal pushing away the awkwardness of middle school locker rooms.