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My Daughter, Tilda Swinton

How Parenting a Preteen Just About Killed Me

When my daughter was in sixth grade, I started having recurring nightmares about Tilda Swinton.

In my dream, no matter where I went in my house, angry Tilda Swinton was there, glaring at me with hateful contempt, while seemingly always wanting a snack.

“I’m sorry, Tilda Swinton!” my dream self would say. “I love you, Tilda Swinton!”

And then I’d wake and remember, “Oh, no. It’s real.”

Twelve-year-old girls can be total dicks. I know I’m not supposed to say it, because of their body image issues and how they get shafted when it comes to STEM education. Besides, at one time I was a 12-year-old girl, so I’m supposed to be empathetic, and bake cookies, and look beautiful, and do Pilates. But all I wanted to do when my daughter was 12 was stab her with a fork.

Here’s the thing: I grew up in a cheerily dysfunctional home. My parents were too busy doing their own crazy thing to bother with my freak-outs, so I honestly never “individuated” (as it’s euphemistically known) until I was, like, 30. At 12, I was cooking family dinner, cleaning the house, and walking uphill both ways to school... in waist-high snow!

Not so my daughter.

At 12, my once cherubic offspring—quite suddenly—would not wear a coat. Or shoes other than flip-flops, even though it was midwinter. She spent an hour every morning straightening, and then inexplicably curling her hair. She stopped riding a bike because that necessitated wearing a helmet, and, well, hair. She started wearing makeup (gobs of it), and began hounding us for a smartphone. We held our ground on that one for a while before finally caving, like all good spineless parents do.

I’ll admit I didn’t handle all this very well.

“Its just hormones,” my best friend counseled. “She’s busy growing boobs.”

Boobs are a big deal. Hormones are a REALLY big deal. And they come on like a freight train from hell.

Say goodbye to pleasant family outings, and hello to a desultory goblin who can cast a pall over the most pleasant apple picking. And don’t even try pumpkin carving. Leave her home when you get the Christmas tree, and do NOT under any circumstances go camping. See if she can move to a relative’s house, or relocate to the basement, or outbuilding, or whatever.

Or do what I did: Kick the hornet’s nest. A lot.

I’m not proud, but my ego was so bruised from my daily failures as a mom, the slightest eye roll would rattle me.

I’d run at conflict, lock horns, and repeatedly make the Number One mistake in the Parenting a Preteen Rulebook: I’d try to reason with her.

Never do this.

At 12, the most sensible child abandons all logic in favor of throwing, swearing, and slamming. My kid broke picture frames, various knick-knacks—even her favorite Harry Potter mug. I’d routinely hear “I wish you were dead!” in response to anything I might say.

She slammed her bedroom door so hard, and so many times, she cracked the doorjamb from floor to ceiling. That’s some impressive DIY rage.

Eventually, I learned a few things:

I learned to look the other way, forgiving small indiscretions by blithely pretending they didn’t happen.

I learned the phrase, “If you need an answer now, the answer is no,” and began employing it all the time. It still works.

And I waited. Time passed. She got a little older, a little wiser.And, luckily? So did I.