Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Snapshot: Table Talk

Tonight I took Twelve with me to an informal get-together. Sitting around the table at one point with us were a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, a social worker, a rocket scientist, a doctoral student in immunology, and a university residence hall coordinator. A software engineer and a materials scientist wandered in and out, I think.

To Twelve, this is a perfectly typical collection of adults.

Conversation topics ranged from "What do you think of the H5Nwhatever virus?" (Response: "Everyone's been asking me that!") to how written Ph. D. preliminary exams differ by department (mine start next week) to the Harry Potter franchise (Twelve is past the halfway point on the last book but hasn't seen any of the movies) to the headache medicine that caused an out-of-body experience that somehow involved trying to film oneself as a tricycle. There was a Roy Rogers with lots of cherries and a joke about balls in there somewhere too.

Still pretty typical.

Twelve does pretty well in this type of situation. She sits quietly for the most part, can reliably respond coherently to inquiries, and occasionally even tests out her ability to capture and hold a group's attention with a statement of her own. (In this group, that's quite a feat. If you've got a story to tell that's longer than about a sentence and a half, you've gotta earn the space in which to finish it.)

Pretty much her whole life, Twelve's spent a lot of time around adults. Somehow, though, it's taken on a new significance since she's been Twelve. It must be partly because she is starting to interact with them in a new way. Maybe she's participating more than she used to, or maybe just in a different way. Mostly, though, I see a difference in how people react to her. Now that she's five foot eight (or so), perhaps my friends are starting to see her as more of a person and less of a child.

Makes sense.

I worry about this shift, though; she's still a child in so many ways. She still loves her mommy, for starters. She still sleeps with Soft Blankie and wants to be tucked in at night. She still thinks it's ridiculous to be attracted to anyone (in my head, I can hear her exclaiming, "Mom!," aghast at the mere suggestion).

I am not looking forward to the (probably inevitable) realization that Twelve's adult friends - the men in particular - have started seeing her as a teenager before she feels like one. If they see her as a sexual being, they'll feel awkward around her, which is bound to result in her feeling awkward around them -- and about herself. Ugh! That's not what I want.

I want her to eat tacos around the table with nerdy and ridiculous conversations swirling around her. I want the books she's brought along to be greeted with eager expressions of delight. I want mechanical engineering doctoral students to tease her by suggesting that if she's chilly, she should add Tabasco to her taco. I want immunologists to commiserate with her over the perennial discontent of women with their straight or curly hair. I want red-haired rocket scientists to ask her to contribute to a discussion of childhood teasing regarding hair color.

I'm not asking for much here, really: I just want time to stand still for just a little while, so I can enjoy Twelve just a little bit more before she's gone.

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