Being 10 Years Old Isn't Necessarily The 'Sweet Spot'

by Jo Frankel
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Now that my twin daughters have turned 10 and I watch their lives unfold, it’s like my whole childhood is unraveling – again – before my eyes.

My girls are convinced that I simply don’t understand them, and as if I needed to find proof that I do, I dusted off my childhood diaries and by chance discovered that my first entry was made when I was exactly their age. Every day I was consumed with the same issues that fill their lives: secret friendship pacts, devotion to teeny pop bands, excitement around school trips and the first signs of boy interest. But what I also encountered was playground battles, the meanness of little girls, and the distress I felt some mornings not knowing if my best friend would be talking to me today.

In short, being 10 years old was hell. It’s this in-between time when you don’t feel like a little kid anymore but you’re certainly not a teenager yet and you spend your life hating/adoring your mother – often several times in one day. I try to be patient and understanding and enormously sympathetic (after all, I really do remember what it was like), but many times, I just feel, as their mother, I have the honorary role of being the live-in-punch-bag.

Last week we hosted our first sleepover party for one of my daughters. It was an interesting experience for us, as parents, as many of their social interactions no longer happen in front of us (they meet outside or else are behind their firmly closed bedroom door). Here, we got to see it up close. My first surprise was watching them arrive – each girl was greeted with a friendly hug and that kiss-kiss greeting which they seemed to have adopted from watching too many TV shows. The first sign that they are no longer little girls.

The first couple of hours went smoothly – they baked cookies, ate pizza, had pillow fights and painted their nails. The signs of unrest came when they put on a movie and one of the girls decided it was boring and went off to the bedroom, in turn dragging most of the other girls with her. Very soon I had a tearful birthday girl beside me in the kitchen (as I nursed a glass of red – it was a very long night) wailing that they are all talking about her behind her back and her party is boring. I dismissed her claims (after all, this was the first sleepover party anyone in her class had hosted – by definition it was incredibly exciting) and urged her to go speak to them.

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Where my kids are concerned, I am a big believer in encouraging autonomy when handling challenging situations and, in any case, an over-protective mother is definitely not a cool accessory for a 10-year old girl. However, very soon it was past midnight, and tensions were mounting among the girls. I called a summit in the kitchen and sat them around the table, to hear from them one by one about the problem. And then I realized that 10-year old girls are unable to listen to each other. Oh, they have plenty to say, but no interest whatsoever in listening.

I shushed them all (they were getting to a very whiny stage) and tried to impart some wisdom on them: that if you want to argue effectively it is more important to listen than to speak. Not sure if that sunk in but there was a temporary pause and then the girl next to me said something very brave. You see, it appeared that this very influential girl had dragged the other girls into her own plan – to make up songs and dance routines. Please note that this girl in question is an extremely talented dancer so this activity was sure to show off her best skills. As for the rest of the girls (my daughter included), they were tired, it was late and chilling in front of a movie with popcorn was far more appealing, but, as this nice smart girl next to me suggested – they were all too afraid to tell her so.

Wow. I wish my 10-year-old self had the guts to say that to a couple of my friends back then. One by one the rest of the crowd nodded in agreement and I watched the wind literally be punched out of the ring leader. The spotlight was turned off.

Well, I wish I could end by saying that we group hugged and all went soundly off to sleep, but this wasn’t exactly the case. The ring leader in question – no longer in the spotlight – decided on other means to become the center of attention, namely by picking a fight with my now over-tired and extremely sensitive daughter. I stepped in (it was 1:00am and couldn’t give a damn about my over-protective image), exchanged some harsh words with her and sent them all off to their sleeping bags with bags of candy in an attempt to sweeten the situation. I fell asleep to the gentle sounds of them texting – each other.

The next morning the ringleader had taken flight early and the mood was calm and happy. I bought fresh bread, made them breakfast and sent them home – with plenty of hugs and kiss-kisses. I was drained and exhausted and my daughter moody and cranky, yet she truly felt it was the best birthday ever. I was happy to hear, but also somewhat sad that this is the life experience of a 10-year-old girl. Every day is filled with such drama; it’s amazing they are able to stay sane. I guess it adds new meaning to my live-in-punch-bag role. Just strike me another one.