By Denene Millner
I’m in the thick of it — that long, slow, delicate march my daughters are taking toward their teens. I see the changes — I’m not blind. There’s hair peaking from those now-stinky underarms, and their curves are pushing against the flowered pockets of their cute little girl pants. My days of shopping in the kids’ section are numbered. Baths full of bubbles, soapy doll babies and that grungy school of rubber fish have been replaced by hot showers with fancy, perfumed liquid soaps.
Bubble baths, you see, are for babies.
And Mari, 10, and Lila, 7, are not babies — they’re quick to let anyone within the sound of their voices know it, too.
I remember that feeling — that deep wanting for my mom to see I wasn’t a little girl anymore. She worked so hard, my mother, and a large part of her not noticing the changes had to do with her not having the time to notice, really. She’d rise up and head down the road to her factory job before sun-up, and get back home sometime after it was so dark I couldn’t see, and then she’d fix dinner and clean her kitchen and say her prayers and head on to bed so that she could do it all over again. Head down, nose to the grind. Respond when there’s a problem.
Thing is, I never felt comfortable going to her with my problems. Like, seriously, who wants to tell their uber busy, exhausted mom that all the girls in gym class have smooth, hairless legs except you? Or that nobody in the entire 5th grade wears pigtails and ribbons? Or that when the cute boy in class looks in your direction, you get so sweaty and sticky you literally go for hours without raising your hand — no matter that you know every answer — out of fear that said cute boy will think you’re some sweaty, sticky, stinky freak?
No, in my tween world, such things were meant to be pondered alone, in the recesses of my too pink, too fluffy, too little girly room. At least that’s what I told myself every time I stared an awkward tween moment in the face.
I don’t want this for my girls, though. Growing up in a society that puts great stock in unrealistic beauty standards and pushing kids to be grown way before their time is tough, but it gets easier if someone is there to grab your hand and say, “come on, baby — I’ll show you the best I know how.”
This is why I’m excited to partner with Unilever, the makers of Degree® Men, Degree® Girl, Dove® and Suave® Deodorant. They’ve asked me to start a dialogue and share my personal experiences with raising tweens on their mom-focused site, Don’tFrettheSweat.com. The hope is that my mom-to-mom blogs, tweets, and other social media connections will help mothers like me extend that hand to their own kids — to show their children how to make it through the tough, sticky, sweat-inducing situations they’ll face as they take their own slow, delicate march toward their teens.
I’m not perfect, and I know I’ll make missteps along the way. That’s a part of mothering — a part of being human. But I’m up to the challenge. And so when my Mari asks that her hair be styled a little differently from the twists she’s been wearing since she was two, or Lila asks for a new pair of earrings and stresses they not be “baby” hoops, or the two of them alternately press into my hand a crumpled piece of paper with a classmate’s number and the words “Playdate please?” scribbled across it, I try my best to receive the requests for what they are: My daughters’ bold, brave step toward teendom — a land where looking like a baby is forbidden, independence is plentiful, and there’s a lot of room for exploration, embarrassment, growth and especially mistakes.
I’ll watch in wonder.
And offer my hand.
Because they are my babies.
Always will be.
Even if I’m not allowed to say it out loud.
For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing “moments,” check out www.DontFrettheSweat.com