Puberty. The very word can send a parent running to the hills in terror. Puberty is the unholy gateway to adolescence. According to whispered stories told by shell-shocked parents behind closed doors as they rock back and forth while curled up in a fetal position, when a child enters adolescence, they instantly become a seething monster of insanity whose only cause in life is to make their parents’ existence a living Hell.
At least, that’s what I’ve heard.
When I was growing up, puberty didn’t seem such a big deal to me. My voice changed, I smelled worse, and girls were suddenly worth obsessing over – that was about it. But I was a boy. My daughter is a girl. The thought of shepherding a daughter through this tumultuous time is a little intimidating. I have simply no frame of reference when it comes to what she might be going through. Sure, my wife will be able to help guide our daughter, helping her through the emotional rollercoasters and telling her the secrets of womanhood which all men know exist, but to which we are kept eternally ignorant. However I don’t want to just stand to one side and say “ask your mother” every time she has a question.
Even more unnerving for me is the simple fact that all of this is happening so much earlier than it used to. I was ten or eleven or seventeen when I went through puberty. Today, it’s not unheard of for a child to enter puberty at the age of eight. Eight! Of course, they’ve been telling us for years that puberty was hitting kids earlier and earlier, so this isn’t exactly news. I’ve heard all sorts of explanations: environmental causes, peer pressure, the music of Black Sabbath, the coming apocalypse, gamma rays from Alpha Centauri. Regardless of the cause, I feel for these kids, dealing with all this on top of everything else we’re throwing at them earlier and earlier. I mean come on. They’re eight!
My daughter is eight. I am terrified.
In a way, I feel cheated. The plan was always that by the time my kids began the journey toward teenager-hood, I would have magically grown wiser, therefore impervious to the drama of adolescence. A hard shell of parental cluelessness would have formed from years of constant parenting, much like a callous on the ball of your foot forms from constant jogging, which would insulate me from the traumatic events that are to come to me via my children. I still need years for that shell to form! It’s not ready! Right now it’s just a vague outline of a shell – more like the vulnerable squishiness of a slug than the hard protection of a tortoise or hermit crab.
Digging deeper into my psyche, I think my fear of the coming onslaught of my children’s respective puberties is based more on what might happen to them emotionally as they venture into adolescence. When a girl matures and enters puberty, that’s just one step closer to when she eventually becomes interested in boys. When that happens, doesn’t she lose a little interest in her father? Right now, I’m Daddy. She’s thrilled to spend the day with me reading fantasy books – I’m still cool. I will, of course, do my best to remain cool for as long as possible by listening to current music, going to movies, and being on the look-out for the next Justin Bieber, but nothing will be able to put off the inevitable day when I become “Dad.” Dad is old. Dad doesn’t tweet. Dad could never understand what it’s like to be young and in love.
I’m not ready for Daddy to morph into Dad, and being told that I can expect the first stirrings of that unwelcome change to come knocking at my door sooner just seems… unfair. When I first had kids, a friend told me that they like you (their parents) through age eleven or so, after which they’d rather not be seen with you. I should have three more years before becoming a persona non grata.
Okay, so what I’m really worried about is the fact that if my kids are getting older, it means I’m getting older, too. A child’s entrance into puberty is just another milestone to pass in the life of a parent. So does that mean that all my fretting over eight-year olds needing to shave is actually an unconscious reaction to my own ever-present mortality?
Did I mention I’m turning 40 this month? ©