Apparently girls are menstruating earlier. Apparently it has something to do with the hormones in the food we eat.
And apparently boys are starting puberty sooner, too.
And apparently we have a name for this age group. "Tween." Kind of like the name teen, but with a "w" thrown in, making it a derivative of the word "between," I suppose, which is what these kids are, with one foot in childhood, the other in adolescence. Of course this stage of development has always existed, it just didn't start so early for us.
In fact do you what they're saying? They're saying that the "tween" stage starts at age 8! Holy cow, really?!? That means that for any of you who are new parents, who are reading What to Expect The First Year, you will have a tween on your hands before the wallet in your pocket wears out.
It goes way. Too. Fast.
Let me bring it home. We have a purple one-eyed puppet on a stick named Fez, who has always given the kids their Friday spelling tests. The kids love Fez. He's real. The preschoolers come running from their free-time play to hug and kiss Fez. Zion and Gene light up when Fez comes out of the drawer. They tell Fez about their week. They ask Fez questions about himself. And of course, all the while I'm standing right there, moving my mouth (I'm no ventriloquist), but the kids don't care. Fez is real.
Until the day when he isn't. For Gene, that day was last Friday. Out came Fez, and Gene turned his head away.
"What's the matter, Eugene?" said Fez in his throaty voice.
"Are you mad at me, Gene?" asked Fez.
"You're...just a puppet," said Gene sadly.
Fez froze. I froze. My throat closed up and my eyes stung. Zion looked horrified. I could tell Gene was crying now, even though is head was still turned and he made no sound at all.
Wordlessly, Fez and I left the room. We went to the kitchen. I laid fez beside the sink and stared out into the gray city beyond my window. I lowered my head into my hands and wept.
And then, when I'd mourned for a few minutes, I dried my eyes and thanked God for the wonderful years I've had with my kids, and for all the wonderful years ahead. Resolutely, I took Fez back into the school room to give Zion his spelling test. When I was through with that, I put Fez back in his drawer and gave Gene his spelling test, grown-up to "grown-up."
Time marches on.
But the cool thing about transition is, it's like getting the best of both worlds. It's the engagement phase, the intern phase, the phase when the lovely smell of vanilla, egg, and cake flour fills the house but the toothpick still doesn't come out clean.
Because an almost-9-year-old boy should be able to sneak back into the school room later in the day, when he thinks I'm not looking, lift his old friend out of the drawer, kiss its purple face and say, "I'm sorry, Fez."
So here's to tweens everywhere! I hope we grownups will, by the grace of God, love you just how you need to be loved.