I, of course, did what any rational mother would do—I blamed other parents. The fact that my sweet, innocent six-year-old had decided she was suddenly too old to be bubble gum was their fault. Obviously.
Ever since Blair’s first day of kindergarten, when our world suddenly and irrevocably collided with those of other families, I had assumed we all shared a collective agreement concerning certain basic parenting tenets: Bullying is bad; playdates shouldn’t include screenings of The Walking Dead; Halloween costumes for elementary-school children should be limited to cartoon characters, innocuous food items and woodland creatures.
I was mistaken. And I just didn’t get it. Why would a parent say “Yes” when a six-year-old daughter asked to dress up like a gypsy, or like anything that might, by someone, by anyone, be considered suggestive? Or inappropriate? Or mature? What was the point of speeding it all up? Didn’t we want our kids to stay as young as they could for as long as they could?
Maybe this sort of fast-forwarding was excusable on Halloween. But it wasn’t just on Halloween.
Barely two weeks after the Monster Mash, I stood in the playground during morning drop-off with a group of moms who, like me, all had their hands to their mouths. A girl in the under-11 set stood in line wearing boots clearly borrowed from an employee of Delilah’s on Spring Garden.
“She can’t even walk,” said one.
“I couldn’t walk in those,” chimed in another.
“Did her mother not see her leave her house?”
Reports spread that the girl’s mother had not only seen but had in fact purchased said boots for her little girl. How very “free range” of her. It’d be nice if that old adage was true—what happens in your family stays in your family. But it doesn’t. Because when your free range ends up in the school drop-off line, it crosses over into my range.
And what that meant was this: I had to spend the next month with my six-year-old (and, because this growing-up thing spreads like the plague, her four-year-old sister) clomping and wobbling around the house in my black leather boots with the two-and-a-half-inch heels, begging (read: screaming, yelling, stomping, slamming) every day to wear them to school, because little Delilah had.
I spouted all the tried-and-trues, like “If I let you wear those, the police will come and take me to jail.” Because what I really wanted to say—“Slow down!”—would have been completely lost on Blair. She had glimpsed the promised land of seven, eight, nine, 26. And it had pierced ears, miniskirts, eye shadow, Justice, bikinis, fully caffeinated Pepsi, YouTube, Lady Gaga, and tight t-shirts with “Hot!” written all over them.
My daughter wasn’t the only one paying attention. This phenomenon of teen babies is so prevalent that marketing people have coined a term for it—“KGOY,” a.k.a. “Kids Getting Older Younger.” A New York Times Magazine article explained why: Three-year-olds are now doing things that used to be reserved for middle-schoolers. Like playing DS games. And wearing Juicy Couture.
Businesses aren’t dumb. The last time the girls and I went grocery-shopping at Wegmans in Cherry Hill, we drove past the über-pink Sweet & Sassy store and watched a parade of girls, all with fresh manis and pedis and all wearing tiaras (as were their moms), strutting single-file into the equally über-pink Sweet & Sassy stretch limo parked out front. The girls were four. I didn’t ride in a limo until I went to junior prom; I didn’t get my first pedicure until I was over 30. If you are doing these things at four, what are your parents possibly going to use for bribery later on? If you do your spelling homework, you can have … a Vespa?
“Sweet & Sassy will never see me, ever,” declares my friend Mara, like me the mother of a six-year-old daughter. Also like me, she has set rules about certain things. She won’t allow princess attire, aside from jammies and undies. “I guess for me,” Mara says, “part of it is wanting my kid to experience things for the first time when she can appreciate them. Like a first sleepover.”
Curious, I asked other friends if they had rules I could steal.
“Makeup? High school.”
“No soda until six.”
“No Star Wars until six.”
“Facebook equals never.”
“She has to call me ‘Mommy’ until
“My kids are not allowed to read the third Harry Potter book until they’re eight,” says my theater pal Chelsea. But then my college friend Mike jumps in: “We let our six-year-old read the first three.”
There probably was a good lesson for me in this moment, something about how letting kids be kids might actually mean letting them navigate their differences for themselves. But suddenly I was in no frame of mind for learning lessons. Instead, I’d become instantly fixated: Did Mike just say that his six-year-old read the first three Harry Potter books?
Meaning that his six-year-old is an advanced-enough reader to read Harry Potter?
And Blair has turned seven, and I can barely get her to read the comics?