A few weeks ago, on that blackest of Fridays, I continued our third annual tradition of taking my kids to the bougie mall to submit to the financial flagellation that is Build-a-Bear Workshop on the literal worst possible day to visit a shopping center. My kids talk about this trip all year long, usually beginning the week after they actually go to Build-a-Bear. I usually dread spending so much money so close to Christmas, but what can I say? I’m a sucker for decisions that make no sense.
If you’ve ever been to this godforsaken store, you know the first stop is the bins of unstuffed stuffed animals, and if there’s anything sadder than a basket of deflated teddy bears, please feel free to let me know (preferably via mail with a $10 Build-a Bear gift card attached I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH HOW MUCH CASH I’VE FLUSHED AWAY AT THIS PLACE). It takes at least one of my kids forever to make this much-anticipated decision. Last year, it was Surrey, who is famous in our family for changing her mind about 5,000 times before finally settling on something, and she only settled because you immediately shielded her from the other choices and hustled her out of sight of the other choices. It’s to the point where I purposely just start handing her random things whenever she’s trying to make a decision, partly because I’m a monster and partly because it’s just really funny to see what she’ll agree to choose. No prior interest in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? “Hey Surrey, what about Leonardo?”
“Oh, YEAH! I yike Yeonardo!”
“Or they have this soccer ball-looking thing…”
“OOOOOOOH! Soccer? I don’t know who Soccer is, but I yike him. I choose dat one.”
And on and on, until I stop messing with her and she makes an actual choice that she’ll regret the second her ass hits her car seat and I’ll get to hear all through 2017 which stuffed animal she’s going to pick when we make our triumphant return to The Store That Must Not Be Named.
This year, though, Bella and Surrey made their choices in a relatively short time. It was Phaedra that had the tough time deciding. Even though she was the one to remind me consistently right up until Thanksgiving that Black Friday = Holy Pilgrimage to Overpriced Stuffed Animal Store, she could not find a choice that she truly liked.
“What about a Troll, from the new movie?”
“Nah. I don’t really like them.”
“Did you see this cat? It’s pretty cute! And you like cats!”
“It’s okay, but no.”
“…what about the My Little Ponies?”
I kind of knew that one crossed the line, but I said it anyways because I live life on the edge.
She finally picked a super basic teddy bear, but I could tell she wasn’t thrilled about it. She ended up really liking her choice after picking out clothes — a video game-themed shirt, glasses, and a miniature version of those animal hats with the long earflaps that double as mittens. Basically, she created a Phaedra bear. My sainted mother-in-law, who willingly comes with us for this experience, and I were both surprised that Phaedra agonized so much over her choice, until it finally made sense to both of us:
She’s becoming too grown-up for this stuff.
Phaedra has hit that awkward age of childhood where she’s stuck between childhood and the pre-teen era. She still loves toys, but only certain toys, and not those toys, because they’re for little kids. She scoffs and mocks Peppa Pig when we watch it now at Surrey’s request, but she still watches it and enjoys it. She wants to go to Build-a-Bear, but none of the choices are mature enough for her. She doesn’t want to watch the YouTube videos of the kids playing with their Lalaloopsy dolls anymore, but she knows I’m giving a hard pass to any videos I hear her listening to with a narrator that swears, and is young enough to still feel scandalized by it when it happens.
I feel for Phaedra. This is her first time growing up, and she has no frame of reference. She doesn’t know what’s going on; she just knows that some of the toys and activities that used to bring her joy suddenly seem childish and unappealing to her now. It’s probably kind of weird and unsettling. But she’s not the only one trying to readjust — just as Phaedra is going through the awkward phase of transitioning between being a little kid to an older kid but not quite a tween, I’m going through the same kind of transition of how to parent such a creature. Which sucks, because I only recently (i.e., last month) kind of figured out how to handle them all. For a hot minute, everyone was a kid, and nobody was a baby. Now I’ve got to figure things out all over again, because there seems to be a steadily growing dividing line between the “little girls,” i.e. Bella and Surrey, and our “big girl,” Phaedra.
But even as things slowly start to change, I hang on to the things she still likes that remind me that she’s still my girl. She still lets me hug and kiss her at school drop-off, which I don’t think she’s crazy about, but I’m pushing that limit as far as she’ll let me. She still talks to me non-stop about all the things she’s interested in, whether or not I know anything about the topic (and, side note guys, what the fuck is Undertale and why am I searching Etsy for Christmas gifts for my nine year old who has never played this video game in her life but is still somehow obsessed with it?!). And, best of all, she still insists on snuggling with me at bedtime and saving all of her deep discussions for those moments when she has me all to herself, with no sisters to interrupt or TV shows to distract. I still get to hear all about what’s troubling her with her friends at school, or questions she has about The Big Things in Life, and get to hear, “Just a few more minutes?” when I try to leave.
I know one day, she’ll ask me not to give her a kiss on the cheek at school drop-off. She’ll do it sensitively, right before we get out of the car in the school parking lot, but it will still sting a little. I know one day she’ll start spending more and more time in her bedroom instead of rolling around on the new couch and watching cartoons with her sisters. One day, she’ll tell me she’s too old to be tucked in. She’ll give me a hug, say, “Good night,” and slowly shut the bedroom door.
But maybe, if I can figure this stage out, she’ll let me slide through just before she shuts the door and let me hang out with her to talk before she goes to sleep.
Just for a few more minutes.
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