I held her while she cried and explained her despair to me in all its intensity. Finally I was just starting to “get it.” I had imagined that her move through adolescence would be a smooth seemless transition, during which her childish preferences would gradually give way to new interests. We had steared clear of television, pop culture and most things mass-marketed. Her only shopping experiences had been at thrift shops and natural food stores. I assumed our past would dictate our future. But the enormnity of her emotions now, made me take notice. Like seeing the grand canyon for the first time. This hormonal flood was amazing.
Suddenly, she stopped crying and a puzzled look swept across her face. “It's all wet under my arms.” she said almost in shock.
“Has that ever happened to you before?” I asked.
“Never!” she said emphatically.
“Well that might explain in part what is happening here.“ I said in my calmest most reassuring tone, and then I went on to discuss how hormones can initiate these changes.
This wasn't my first clue. Earlier signs were there, and I enjoyed them as one takes pleasure in the initial warm winds of spring. Her body had been changing and I appreciated her openness about what this was like. Some months later she told me that she was having new feelings about wanting to hold hands with a certain boy. We shared a new intimacy and talked candidly about where these feelings might eventually lead. She listened with amazement and partial disbelief when I suggested that she might at some point desire contact beyond hand-holding. Life still felt relatively peaceful.
Then came New Years Eve. My husband and I had opted for a quiet celebration at home. As the evening wore on our daughter pestered us more and more to “go somewhere” or “do something.” She wanted excitement. Recently our family had moved from our wonderful country home to a temporary rental in the suburbs of another city. Her grandparent's health had also just taken a turn for the worse. My husband and I just wanted a quiet New Years Eve at home with just the four of us in our immediate family, and I noticed, for the first time ever, a level of “caginess“ I had never before seen in my daughter. She was not happy about our low-key New Year's celebration and made her dissatisfaction quite known. My husband and I found her behavior annoying. I attributed it mostly to New Year's Eve and failed to see it for what it really was -- a harbinger of what was to come.
By spring, puberty was in full swing and the, "unbearableness" was growing. I should have known the first warm winds of spring invariably set in motion turbulent thunderstorms. We were in totally uncharted territory. All I knew now was that we were in this together. “What can I do to help?” I asked her.
“I don't know. It's just unbearable to be here, This house is unbearable“
“Would you like to go somewhere?”
“Yes.” she was crying.
“I don't know. I just want to go somewhere. It's unbearable to be here.“ It was Saturday evening. Most everything was closed or closing, but the weather was awesome. I offered to take her out -- just the two of us to a huge lake or else to just walk around downtown. She had no preference. It was getting dark and downtown was closer so we went there. We walked and talked. She calmed down. After several hours, home didn't feel so unbearable and we returned. We had surfed our first wave and no one drowned. I felt a sense of relief. But the experience was a wake-up call. I decided to be a little more proactive.
With my daughter's help we planned a mother-daughter Puber Tea. We invited a half dozen of her friends and their mothers to join us the following weekend. We sent out a list of questions for all to ponder in advance. Once assembled in our living room, everyone had an oportunity to share their thoughts on a variety of questions beginning benignly with “What are some of your favorite books?“ Eventually we tackled more sensitive issues by asking “How have you changed in the last year?” and “Is there anything that you wish you could make your parents understand?“ The discussion was soothing, and connecting. Half-way through, we invited the girls to finish their discussion alone upstairs and sent with them all the snacks on hand hoping there would be enough to last them the hour or two we anticipated it would take. We mothers chatted on, expecting that the girls would get even more out of talking amongst themselves privately. We wanted them to see that they were not alone and to learn from each other's experiences.
Barely Twenty minutes went by when my daughter reappeared. “We're done.” she said cheerfully.
“Done?” I asked astonished. “Did you discuss all the questions?
“Oh yes” she said, “and now we have a question for the moms.” And with that she handed me a peice of paper and then sprinted away back upstairs to her friends. I turned towards the other moms amidst the sound of distant giggles coming from upstairs. I was feeling so proud of having organized this puber tea. It was obvious that something of great significance had come up during their discussions and now they had taken the ball and run with it. They had a question for us moms. We all sat eagerly while I carefully unfolded the note and slowly read it to the group. I didn't preread it, because I felt that we all deserved to hear it first -- at the same time. It was signed by all the girls and It said:
“We've all been talking about something that is very important to us and we wanted to know, would you take us right now for a group shopping trip?“