When you fall pregnant, the first thing they do is hand you a booklet (or ten) about all the things you need to know about your developing baby. When the baby comes out, you could easily spend the first two years reading non-stop about milestones and developmental stages and forget to actually spend time with your baby.
So why does the information stop when they get to school? Why didn’t anyone tell me about what was going to happen to my six year old daughter, who one woke up one day and starting behaving like a hideous, snarky, catty, sobbing, back-chatting – dare I say it – teenager?
‘You’re the worst Mum in the whole world.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘I can’t wait til I’m an adult and I don’t have to listen to you anymore.’
I was beginning to consider boarding school options when I chanced upon a conversation with the teacher’s aide at my daughter’s school.
‘Oh yes,’ she said as we watched my six year old taunt her younger (and much shorter) sisters by taking the flying fox away from them. Again and again.
‘Girls get this big hormone surge around Year One or Two and they start behaving terribly. It doesn’t last. Boys get it in Pre-Primary.’
[Imagine sound of a record being scratched to a stop]
Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? I had been living in the secret fear for the past few months that perhaps I was just raising – gulp – a bitch. I didn’t know about this hormone surge (and I looked it up, it’s totally true. Read this and this).
Because I believe in talking to my kids about grown-up things, sometimes successfully (sometimes not), I decided to sit the Bombshell down and talk to her about these hormones.
‘So do you know what puberty is,’ I asked her one night.
‘Uh, no,’ she replied, not looking up from her book.
‘Well, when you go through puberty in a few years time, your body will change and you will begin to look more like a grown-up woman.’
‘Like you?’ she asked, grimacing.
‘Well, hopefully not like me as such, but when you go through puberty lots of things will change and a lot of it is caused by chemicals in your body called hormones,’ I told her, brushing off the pointed dismissal of my body shape.
‘Hormones?’ she said. She even said it like a teenager, with an incredulous emphasis on the first syllable and little sigh indicating she was already bored with the conversation.
‘It’s a bit like the ingredients when you make a cake. When they are all mixed together and baked, you can’t make it go back to what it was. It’s a permanent change. A better change,’ I added optimistically.
‘My point,’ I said, ‘is that you are also having a big hormonal shift right now, which is why you’re a little… emotional, at the moment… and sometimes you can’t seem to control your anger. It’s something that is happening inside your body, and what’s important is that it won’t last.’
I watched her as she took this all in. I wondered if she was going to burst into tears or yell at me, but instead she simply said ‘ok’.
Last night, she came swanning through the door, walking on her toes, arms outstretched. She extended a hand towards me.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘I am your new daughter. I will be nice to everyone, do what I’m told and never hit my sisters. I have realised that they want to do everything I do, so I need to be nice and only teach them good things.’ With that, she turned and swanned out again.
Stunned, I asked my husband ‘Did you just hear that? Maybe it’s over now.’
This morning, the Bombshell came out already dressed in her uniform, ate breakfast without arguing, shared toast with the Baby, didn’t complain I was killing her when I brushed her hair, and actually thanked me for making her lunch.
It was like having a stranger in the house and it was wonderful. I didn’t yell once and I can tell you honestly, that I can’t remember the last time I made it through the whole morning without raising my voice.
As I held the door open for everyone to troop outside to the car, she leaned into me and whispered ‘Do you remember last night?’
‘The new daughter?’ I asked. She nodded.
‘Do you think she can stay?’ she asked me.
I gave her a kiss, and nodded. ‘I’d like that very much.’
* * *
I know it can’t be that simple (but gee, wouldn’t it nice if for once it WAS that simple) but I also know that having this information is going to make it easier for us to get through this next patch.
Luckily for me, there are so many books on parenting teenagers, I can probably ignore the kids for the next few years while I read up on how to deal with them for real.