June 26, 2020
By Ekta R. Garg
I blinked and became a mother.
I blinked and became a mother again.
I blinked and am the mother of a 14-year-old.
Is it just me, or does 14 sound more grown up? Hear me out on this. I think there are age markers where the kids are no longer kids. When they’re 5, we think, “Oh, so sweet, s/he’s just in kindergarten.” But then 6 rolls around, and suddenly they’re in elementary school.
They hit 10, and we think, “Wow, s/he’s still a kid.” But suddenly they turn 12, and they’re on the verge of becoming a teenager.
And now that I’m the mother of a 14-year-old, it’s become glaringly obvious to me that in four years I’ll be the mother of a college freshman.
Okay, wait a second. Maybe I need to back up. I need to think of Fourteen as she is now and not that far into the future.
In many ways, she’s still a little girl. Already this summer I have had to give this child a hand to get out of bed, because she’d rather loll away her summer vacation instead of getting up at a decent hour in the morning. I’ve stood next to her, kissing her on the cheek several times in succession, calling her bluff every morning when she’s “sleeping” but not acting convincingly enough like it, and reaching under the comforter to pull her pajama shirt down in a gentle manner after it’s ridden up overnight.
I stroke her hair and sing stupid songs that I invent on the spot, and, when nothing else works, reach under the comforter again for her mile-long longs and swing them, again with the same gentleness I used when she was a baby, toward the floor. Her legs are so long that even this move doesn’t provide her body with upward momentum. Instead, she rubs her eyes and, after a few seconds, holds out her hands to me so I can pull her up. With a yawn, and suffering from extreme bedhead, she pads to the bathroom and shuts the door.
It’s when she shuts the door that I know she’s a teenager and not a little kid. Privacy, please, she’s saying with that one small gesture. I need a minute, and I need it alone.
I’ve seen these small shifts in other areas too. Although we bought Fourteen’s birthday cake (well, birthday brownies, but that’s beside the point,) she’s made it clear since the start of the summer that she’s going to bake her sister’s cake when it’s Eleven’s birthday. As a reward for pitching in to clean the house, we bought her a small succulent and a tiny cactus. A friend dropped off another succulent at our doorstep for her, and she’s keeping a close eye on all three plants in her room. She even went so far as to re-pot them herself when it became clear they needed it.
And she’s become quite savvy in her comebacks. Earlier today when she and Eleven and I were laughing our way through a game of Liar, she caught me lying about how many cards I’d put down.
“I know your tells,” she said.
“Really?” I asked. “What are they?”
“Wha—no. That’s not how this works. I’m not going to tell you, otherwise you’re going to try not to do them.”
She’s also become more tolerant and, in some ways, more lenient with her younger sister. On the days that aren’t too hot, the girls have taken to walking around the neighborhood for about 30 minutes. They use their alone time to dissect TV shows. I’m sure there’s also some complaining about “the parents” that goes on too. But I don’t mind. They’re bonding, and Fourteen leads the way in that.
“I’m a hoarder,” Eleven declares when I’m helping her clean out her closet, and I know she says and does this because her big sister has a strong connection with objects from various events and memorable dates. If either my husband or I tease Eleven about something, there’s a 50-50 shot she’ll get offended. If Fourteen jokes with Eleven, my younger daughter’s face cracks into a smile that then usually erupts in a laugh.
Fourteen doesn’t order her sister to leave her room; instead, the girls will fold their laundry together. And that game of Liar from earlier today? By the time I joined them, they’d already been playing for more than 30 minutes. The only reason I got in on the fun was because they were laughing so hard and getting so crazy that Fourteen, her eyes wide in dramatic fashion, begged me to join them.
“She’s crazy,” she stage-whispered of her younger sister, knowing and probably betting on the fact that Eleven was listening around the corner.
This older child of mine, bit by bit, is turning into a responsible young woman. She cares deeply for her friends, and she doesn’t hesitate to take the lead when asked. Most of the time, too, she’s in a sunny mood. None of that melodramatic teenage darkness for her, thank you, as she mocks teens who behave that way.
“[Eleven] is more of a teenager than I am,” she says with a roll of her eyes, and it’s true. On some days my younger child’s mood bounces like a ping pong ball, and it’s hard to predict when and where the bounce will go.
Of course, Fourteen is still a teenager. We have to remind her every week to clean her room. If a conversation doesn’t engage her directly, she’ll often drift off into her own thoughts and have to be brought back to Earth. If she’s got a plan for something on her own—painting her nails before a socially-distanced meeting with her friends—she’ll go after it without anyone reminding her, but try to get her to do the same for something we asked her to do and her face goes blank as she blinks once or twice.
“I forgot,” she’ll say; another one is, “I don’t know.”
That’s one of her tells, the classic “I don’t know” that translates to “I didn’t do it” or “I’m not interested and am annoyed you’re making me.”
Still a teen. Still at home for four more years. Always mine.
I love this kid.