The Challenge Of Parenting A 12-Year-Old

by Tierney Clavette
Roy McMahon/Getty

Sometimes, the laughter that roars from her mouth breaks boundaries.

I open my eyes and she makes faces at her phone screen. Pouty lips and mascaraed eyes, naive and bold. The world is her oyster, and she is on the edge of discovery.

She is as moody as a 12-year-old should be, but she bounces back, and crawls into my soul. She is every-day lounge wear that is comforting and warm. A safe space. A quick curl of her lip, and we are giddy — laughing over nonsense.

In my eyes, she shimmers. Her easy ways. Her silliness. Her wanting me around (usually). She is an athlete, a smart-ass, and a swearer. Two out of three she gets from me.

But sometimes, I open my eyes and she is grown, this child of mine.

Lately, she leaves her bedroom door open just a crack. I push, and it creaks to a stop; there she stands in her fourth outfit of the hour. On her bed are two pairs of jean shorts, and three similar looking yellow shirts. Each one would have worked. Each one cute and clean and new. Now crumpled and messy and heaped — they are not to her liking. Not today. Maybe tomorrow.

I shut my eyes and she is a child, this girl of mine. Dipping her tanned feet into an overflowing bucket on the sand. Crinkling her nose in the bright sunshine. Holding her hands out to me knowing that I will steady her. Freckles blooming. Behind my eyes, she is six, or five, or four. Blonde hair, blue eyes holding my heart and whispering her stories. Today is a day for silliness — not seriousness. Not today. Maybe tomorrow.

I open my eyes and she is leaning over to steer the wheel. She is sprawled over my body, trying to feel the driver within her. Her arms entwine with mine and she throws confidence to the air. She is 12, and wants so badly to drive. It is our nightly ritual, learning the ways of the world over the ways of the car. I try desperately to impart hidden life-lessons along the way. She swerves, and I shudder and am reminded of the quickness of it all. It can all end in a blink.

I shut my eyes and she is dancing across the room. She is seven, or eight, or nine and giddy and lackadaisical. Her dance moves, made up on the spot, make me giggle. She is the heroine in her own musical. Her hair flips and shines and twists. She bolts from couch to chair to couch again, collapsing into fits of childhood.

Sometimes, we dance through this world together, yet she is such herself. She overflows my heart.

She is strong-willed and stubborn, but can’t hold that pose for long. Every time she tries to hold anger, she turns to hide a silly grin. She is, at times, annoying — she is 12, after all.

She lives for basketball, a good rumor, and raucous joy. She knows everything. Hears everything. Sees everything. She is around every corner. For now. But sometimes…

Sometimes, sometimes she is still. Sometimes she closes her door and begs to be left alone. Sometimes she shuts me out. Sometimes I see the pattern of every 12-year-old child on the brink of change. Sometimes she is soft music that quakes my being. Sometimes she is lightness and tiptoes and secrets.

Yet sometimes, sometimes, she is a one, two, three, four-year-old climbing into my lap, nuzzling her softness into the crook of my arm, breath hot on my neck, child of my soul.

I shut my eyes tightly and try to rein her in. It is such a small amount of time that we have. I open my eyes and try to loosen the reins. The emotions ebb and flow, and we glide forward. Tomorrow she will be 13 and 15 and 20. It is how it must be, this child of mine.