A long time ago the middle school teacher whose social studies class I had just observed told me, "sixth grade is Paris cafe society; seventh grade is Beirut" and it's not so much the new teens' viciousness that makes the maxim true as the stark contrast between the new rough tall now and that disappeared childhood that was here mere moments ago.
I can even trace the change to a single day. February 14. Valentine's Day, she buys a Walgreen's heart shaped box of chocolate and writes her phone number on a card. "You have to put your name on it, too!" I urge her and so does her father but she ignores us and slips it anonymously onto a certain boy's desk so he has to text her and ask, "who is this?"
(They don't call, they text. When I confiscated Nora's phone last week and told her she had to call her friends on the landline, she was all, "How?")
So Valentine's night I read Nora's and the boy's texts because that's my job and when he asks, "so I guess you like me?" and she says, "yes, do you like me," my heart crumbles down and when he says, "yeah, sure," I DIE. It's that brave impartial self-protective "sure" that slays me and when later after an even more awkward exchange he texts the word "oof" I'm jolted back in time because that's what a boy I knew would say.
Surprise, the young man Nora chose turns out to be kind and intelligent and gentle and when he surprises us at the front door one Sunday afternoon I am pleased, not pleased just because of the flowers he has brought our terrified girl (who just happens, in a perfection of awkwardness to be taking a shower in the downstairs bath next to the front hall when the doorbell rings) but pleased because this is the one rare night that I have actually made dinner rather than assembled leftovers or ordered in.
And when I invite him to stay and he accepts and praises the flank steak and roasted potatoes and leaves enough creamed kale and rolls for me, I am smitten. Not with the boy, but with my new role -- the girlfriend's mother. No, wait. The mother of the special friend.
After dinner in the kitchen they go into the living room and stand next to each other by the table, looking ahead, not at each other, talking and listening, talking, talking, so much he has to say to her, words spill out of him and she is "yes yes yes," who knows if they even know much about each other but to find a person who gets your weirdness and isn't scared or repulsed but drawn to you because of it not despite it. Ah. Aaaaah. I remember.
Nowadays she's as silly playful wise silent poised affectionate buoyant driven as she has ever been but also?
Thirteen. It's anarchic and precious. Tough and resistant. Sarcastic. The tenderness of twelve is just close enough to remember and also to wonder at how far gone it is.
She picks up the ukelele and in six days teaches herself Radiohead's "Freak" and a little ditty by
Cavetown called "This is Home" that the whole family can't stop humming.
Often I am upset that I cannot fall in love but I guess
This avoids the stress of falling out of it
Are you tired of me yet?
I'm a little sick right now but I swear
When I'm ready I will fly us out of here
Ooooo, I'll cut my hair
Ooooo, To make you stare
Ooooo, I'll hide my chest
And I'll figure out a way to get us out of here