99 problems and 11 is one

17 Jan
Me at 11, with my trusty pony

Me at 11, with my trusty pony

How was 11 for you? I’m trying to remember myself. It’s pretty much all bad, but if you need something good, at 11 I discovered that the pommel of my pony’s saddle was great for frequent fanny gallops. Here’s the bad, in no particular order:

  • The embarrassment of growing breasts: one nipple grew hard before the other, and as a result my left boob has always been larger than the right. It’s quite charming. But at 11, I thought I had a problem. So did my mum, and her concern lead her to ask a doctor friend to feel it one Sunday lunch when we were all sitting around the table. This resulted in many years of therapy.
  • The beginning of pubic hair. So sparse, and so alien. Not a friendly mass of Australian outback bouffant curls like the women in the swimming pool changing rooms. Just the sad sight of barren land with a few stray weeds growing with stubborn irregularity.
  • Girls. Girls could be mean. Even when I had given a friend my last block of flourescent Fimo, she kicked me to the curb. I nearly got run over once trying to roller-skate in the wake of a so-called pal who had crossed the road seconds before me. This confirmed my belief that I would always be the accident-prone elephant and she would continue to be the lucky swan.
  • Worms. In the 1980s, in my world, they were everywhere. I was too embarrassed to tell my mother because we had a strange doctor, and I didn’t want him looking up my bottom.
  • Ditto thrush. I had it twice in my eleventh year. I thought that if I told anyone, they would think it was because I had been touching myself. And I probably had. But really, thrush was just one of those things. If I get it now, I know what to do, but 25 years ago? I didn’t know about the wonders of natural yoghurt.
  • My parents. They were so interested in everything but me. My younger siblings, my older siblings, their dysfunctional marriage, their parents, animals and all of the other things that were elbowing their way into the very small space that I had tried to reserve for myself and them. So I turned against my parents. For nearly a decade, I hated them. Of course, I loved them, but I told them I hated them.

I’m digging to remember not so much for myself (believe me, I have learnt to deal with all the hair and niggling anxieties surrounding friends and thrush – if I’m lucky, as separate issues, but sometimes as a mix. I also really love and appreciate my parents now.) So rather than remembering in order to heap blame onto things that once caused me grief, I am trying to conjure up some of these feelings for the sake of my daughter. She is 11, angry a lot, and she says she hates me.

This is nothing new. And of course, all of my life crises’ at 11 are not going to be the same things that my daughter is losing sleep over now. Some will though – like the parents and the girls. Mean girls are always going to be around, and parents who don’t understand. Well, it’s obvious that we’re not going away.

But anyway, beneath the initial tedium and sheer exasperation that comes from repeatedly being told by your daughter that you are a rubbish mother and you are ugly and not fit to be a parent and you married the wrong man and blah, blah, blah, comes the fact that something needs to be done to try to remedy this perpetual vitriol. Shut her out in the garden? Good for 10 minutes sometimes. But for the longterm, I have to devise a loose plan.

I probably won’t ever know the exact reasons why my daughter is angry with me because I am not, and do not want to be her best friend.

However, I can try to help. It seems that the main feeling I remember having when going though any ‘bad’ stage of adolescence, was the need to feel loved and tended to. This might sound a little too Oprah for some and too darn obvious for others. I can hear the cries of “Try telling a teenager you love them whilst they are hurling abuse at you over the gas hob!” But I have to take note when trying to unpick what lies beneath my daughter’s apparent hatred towards me.

I spend a lot of time with my children. I work from home and only go out in the evenings a couple of times a week. I prepare three meals a day for them. I am not asking for a medal from smug parenting-guru Steve Biddulph, but simply illustrating that I am not an absent parent.

And yet, my daughter has a point when she says I never spend any time with her alone. I’m good at barking orders: “Have you done your homework/washed your hair/checked for nits/filled out that form/cleaned up your room?” I occasionally half-watch television with her, though I find it hard to stomach BBC3. I try to find programmes we’ll both like. Cue American cult show Girls, which I swiftly turned off when I realised how filthy dirty the sex scenes are. Yes, I am parentally inadequate in parts, but I am not bad.

My husband gets to do the fun stuff, because I feel he needs to bond. He is a step-father to our daughter. He has been on the receiving end of his fair share of expletives from her over the past few months. I encourage good times for them to share.

And then I curse the time that he is spending accompanying her around museums, window shopping in Liberty, and eating out. Meanwhile, I am breaking up boy fights with our other chidren, while simultaneously trying to make dinner that usually results in me slam-dunking fistfuls of mashed potato onto the top of a rather dubious looking pie. Oh yes. I want to be fun mother for a day.

And luckily, for reasons explained above, my daughter wanted me for the day too last weekend. “I hate you”. Again. Then, “Can we spend the day together, mum, even though I hate you?” And for once, my husband was not working at the weekend. There seemed to be a window of opportunity. And there we were, just my daughter and me an hour later, riding the number 68 bus into town, gliding over Waterloo bridge with just the sights for distraction.

Needless to say, the day was fabulous. You can have fun with little money, sometimes. I spent Christmas vouchers in Space NK and was made up by a half blind Brazilian man who said I was “BEEYOODIFUL lady.” My daughter did her best semi-scowl, then agreed. “See.” I felt like saying “Men still find me attractive. Mostly gay men with a penchant for Liza Minelli, but all the same.”

We were home at 10pm refreshed and happy. It was a taste of the future and I really am relishing sharing more time together, alone. As I kissed my daughter goodnight, we exchanged I love yous. And that, dear readers, was a good day in the life of an 11 year old. Next time she says “I hate you” I’ll remind her that It (her life) and I (her mother) are not always that terrible.

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One Response to “99 problems and 11 is one”

  1. vcwald January 17, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    At the age of 11, I desperately wanted my parents’ attention and understanding, without my having to explain myself, and to pull away from their prying, controlling “caring” at the same time. The upsurge of strange new hormones didn’t exactly help the situation.
    At my annual checkup when I was in 5th grade, which I think is about age 11, the pediatrician “palpated” both of my (flat-seeming) breasts for far longer than I would have thought necessary to detect the state of pre-pubescence. The feeling was exceedingly icky. I know my parents were informed of the results because my father soon took the opportunity of a hug to check it out for himself. It went from icky to much icky-er.

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