Some time ago, students didn’t leave their sheltering elementary schools for the exploration of junior high until seventh grade. Kids were usually 12 years of age by September, learning combinations to lockers and lugging rented instruments to last period band class. I remember those liberating days at Horace Mann in Kanawha City — a school that looked like a college campus and felt like a new world.
But while I was off being a grown up, I missed the decision to move sixth graders to a scary place called middle school. And now that I’m a parent of a daughter on the verge of changing schools, this graduation has wiped out everything I thought I knew about advanced childhood. Since she’s going to this scary place called middle school at age 11, I’m going to be forced to loosen my protective grip. This frightens me.
I’ve spent the last few months of parenting telling Ava “NO” to cell phones, social networking, cosmetics and high heel shoes. “No, you can’t have that/do that/wear that/say that,” I lecture. “It’s too soon.”
Yet, what is age appropriate behavior for a tween? For instance…
- Do middle school girls, age 11, still play with American Girl dolls?
- Do they still visit the cartoon parks at Walt Disney World?
- Do they continue to shop at Justice or Crazy 8 (if sizes go up to age 12)?
- Do they still have to sit in the backseat of a car, or can they call shotgun?
- Do they ride scooters or bikes? If so, where do they do this? At the park or in the street?
Because of these uncertainties, I’ve changed the wording of my standard question. Instead of Don’t you think it’s a little early for that? — I find myself asking Don’t you think you’re getting a little old for that?
Meaning, do middle school kids go trick or treating on Halloween? If not, this will be Ava’s last parade around the block.
Aha. All Hallows’ Eve. This weekend, I got up before the sun to read the latest issue of Southern Living in peace and quiet. I found myself locked in Allison Glock’s family column. This month, she writes about preserving modesty in the modern era of Halloween. The horror isn’t in the section of the store dedicated to Walking Dead garb. The real scare comes in the form of “Twerkin’ Teddy”, “Bad Habit Nun” and “Skeleton Catsuit”. Yes, these costumes are made in youth sizes.
I cherished Ava’s first Halloween. She was a baby sunflower from the Anne Geddes collection. The next year, she was Thumper the rabbit, then a bumblebee, and the following year, she was “JoJo” the circus clown. When she turned four, she made a darling Tinkerbell, and when she went to kindergarten, she was a fancy cheetah. After that, she became a cupcake, then a Crayola crayon, and then a 1950′s girl. Last fall, she transformed into a WVU cheerleader.
Ava and I were on the same team for a decade. This season, however, we’re rivals.
It all started when Ava asked if she could dress as a One Direction fan. Do we even need to buy a costume for that? She presented a wrinkled catalog.
“This, “ Ava announced, pointing to the girl in the picture. “I want to wear what she has on.”
I leaned down to get a closer look. BRITISH INVASION?!
Bloody hell no!
The Union Jack dress hit the juvenile model well above the knee. It was a sleeveless sheath made from the thinnest material the manufacturers could get away with. Shower curtains are constructed of heavier fabric.
“I need the shoes, too,” she stated. GOGO BOOTS?!
In my wicked little mind, I heard the theme song from Austin Powers. YEAH, BABY, YEAH!
“No, Ava, no…” I whined. “Find something else. Here!” I pointed to another picture. “How about this cute outfit?”
Ava screamed. “A WATERMELON FAIRY?”
It’s different! It’s unique!
“All right…then we’ll all dress up,” I suggested. “Maryn can be Scooby Doo, I’ll dress up as Velma, Daddy can be Fred, and you can be Daphne.”
On second thought, Fred wore an ascot. Mike would choke me with it.
“British, huh?” I pondered. “The Beatles! We’ll go as the Fab Four! Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!” I squealed. “But I get to be Paul.”
Ava was getting tired.
“Please, Mom,” she sighed. “It’ll be fine.”
I slammed the catalog closed. “Ok, but if you look even the slightest bit cheap, the costume will be returned.”
Ava shook hands on the terms of our agreement and waited by the mailbox at 4:00 p.m. for the next nine business days. Unfortunately, the ensemble arrived. She pulled the dress over her head and immediately reached for her knees. It was…short. Mini-skirt short. Twiggy stood before me.
“No. It’s too old for you.”
She protested. “Please, Mom! Look! I’ll wear a tee-shirt under it.”
That was a slight improvement.
“And tights,” I added. “With biking shorts on top of the tights.”
She flashed a smiled and pulled on the white boots with the stacked heel.
“Can I keep them, Mom?” she begged. I looked at Ava and then down at Maryn. My youngest daughter was wearing a witch’s hat and dusting the floor with a broom missing 90% of its bristles.
“What do you think?” I asked Maryn. She peered into her crystal ball.
“She’s gonna get blisters and then Daddy’s gonna hafta carry her home,” she warned. What a wise ol’ witch.
“All right. You can keep them,” I told Ava. “But you will not wear those boots outside of Halloween.”
“Didn’t you wear these boots when you were a majorette?” Ava asked, marching in place.
I answered too quickly. “Sure, I did. But I was in….”