What to Expect When Girls Hit Puberty is a MyBrownBaby original post that ran in 2010. As my babies Mari and Lila make their way toward 16 and 13 respectively, I’m thinking about the things I fretted over as a young mom, and picking some of my favorite essays to re-share with the MyBrownBaby audience—both new and old. Enjoy!
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 Baths full of bubbles and soapy doll babies and that grungy school of rubber fish have been replaced by hot showers with fancy, perfumed liquid soaps.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 can’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 a girl child 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.”
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 aloud to say it out loud.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.