Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bedroom Makeover [or] How to Impress Twelve

Twelve is mostly nonplussed most of the time. She habitually wears a jaded air (because after all, if you were the smartest person in the world, you too would want to express how unimpressed you are by anything else) but the other day I got to be a superhero for about three whole minutes.

I'd been trying to buy a bookcase for Twelve's room for months, because she doesn't have one and because bedrooms should contain bookshelves. Craigslist, thrift shops, the weirdly-overpriced-yet-boring consignment place down the street: Twelve vetoed every single possibility. As a general rule, I do not press issues like this with Twelve. If she doesn't like it, I don't buy it: She's a very good shopper and I trust that if she doesn't like a t-shirt now, she's not going to like it any more after I've forced her to own it. And, while I find it utterly inexplicable that her books lived in a dresser drawer, I do understand that this is not an actual problem.

We were out sewing machine hunting and stopped at the grungiest thrift shop on the route. I halfheartedly pointed at a very ordinary came-in-a-box black bookcase, entirely expecting Twelve to instantly dismiss it, and she actually said she liked it! Amused but wanting to stay cool, I asked if she wanted a nearby little black folding table to replace my little wooden folding table as her nightstand, and she went for that as well.

After bustling around to get the dang thing into the trunk and bungee-corded down, we drove off, discussing the bedroom rearrangement that would be happening when we got home. Twelve loves this sort of thing. Blah blah blah de blah blah blah ... I'm just trying to keep up, until she starts in on wanting to switch beds again.

Twelve used to sleep in my childhood bed: Twin size, creaky springs under the mattress, cast iron headboard and footer - very much like the hospital beds in Downton Abbey, in fact. After a former roommate moved out a couple of years ago, R and I surprised Twelve by giving her the very nice queen size bed that the roommate left behind. All was well until recently, when Twelve decided that the old bed would give her more bedroom space and lobbied to switch the beds back.

I have no interest whatsoever in playing musical beds.

Twelve's room is plenty big for the queen size bed, the spare room downstairs is teensy, and the staircase is low-ceiling-ed, twisty, and treacherous. Moving beds around is a dumb idea, and I'm not going to do it.

"But what if I get R to help me?" says Twelve, and as I try in vain to think of a reason why the beds shouldn't be switched, I know what's coming: "You know you don't have a logical reason," says she, and she's right, so I pull out my trump card. Laughing, I tell Twelve that she's right but that I still get to veto the bed switching plan, and the conversation moves on.

Once we get home, the furniture rearrangement begins. She lets me try the bookshelf in the place I think it should go, and of course she's right, it looks terrible there. As we're maneuvering it into the place she wants to try, I ask if she wants me to reinforce the back panel a bit.

she asks. It's one of those cardboard backs where you can see the fold lines.

"With staples, I think,"
and I go hunt down the staple gun.

Sure enough, after a few staples, the unit does seem sturdier, and the backing attached more smoothly. Twelve is impressed! I am gratified by this! Twelve is more and more capable every week, it seems, and thinking about it later I realized that there really are fewer and fewer opportunities for her to be impressed by anything I do: Going to college? Boring. Getting jobs? Tedious. Turning yards of cloth into garments? Business as usual. Being a landlady: A total hassle. Sometimes I guess it takes a staple gun and a reasonably steady hand to impress a twelve year old.

Then, I mentioned offhandedly that she could paint her desk black to match the bookshelf and end table. According to the notation on the back, we painted it white in 2005.

Twelve lights up.

The next day on our walk to the gym, we stopped at the neighborhood hardware store and picked out a quart of water-based black paint and a paintbrush. We found the giant roll of plastic that was originally intended as R's greenhouse cover and cut a piece to fit under the desk. I taught Twelve how to pry the lid off a paint can. Admonishing repeatedly that she better not get paint anywhere but on the desk, I left her to it.

She did a great job.

Bookcase: $10. Nightstand: $3. Quart of black paint: $8.79. Paintbrush: $1.99. Seventeen staple gun staples: Maybe seven cents. Impressing a twelve-year-old with your mad DIY skillz: Priceless.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sheepdog Twelve

My books of official wisdom haven't arrived yet, but I've decided that preadolescents are like sheepdogs.

I can explain.

A friend brought her sheepdog to porch sitting the other night (having first very properly emailed to check that was okay, the Emily Post in me interjects approvingly), and described the dog's behavior towards humans in terms of herding. Summit will, for example, follow her out to the yard, check out the situation and confirm that her human is only going to be sitting out there reading on a blanket, and only then might go back in the house. Keeping track, checking in ... bossing around, basically.

Twelve kind of does the same thing. Often it's combined with "Oh, you're heading towards the bathroom? I'm going to announce that I have to pee, race you in there, and get in your way, just because I want to be as obnoxious as possible." That's when we laugh together for a few minutes, and then when I get tired of that, we have the conversation about good attention-getting vs. bad attention-getting behaviors and I shove her out of the room.

Many times, though, Twelve will just wander out of her room and check in with what I'm doing. Are you going to go down and sew? What are you doing? Are you going to watch your show? That kind of thing. I can't quite tell why she cares, since she is becoming an absolute master putter-arounder in her room and is perfectly content to do that all day, but she definitely checks in. It's not obnoxious, it's just conversational. It's quite nice, actually. Sometimes she'll announce that she is going to sit with me in the big blue chair, and we'll do that for awhile. Sometimes I take the opportunity to tell her to do something specific, like remove that banana peel to the compost bucket and put the used tissues inside the trash can. (What can she possibly be DOING in there that prohibits the accurate placement of trash in the appropriate receptacle?)

Last night we three got home kind of late from a cookout - a fairly typical summer evening situation. Usually Twelve starts getting ready for bed right away, but last night she saw that I had sat down in the big blue chair with my laptop and R had collapsed on the couch with a magazine, and announced importantly that she was going to go get her book. She retrieved her book and came back to sit in the other chair.

Yes. It was that precious.

I had only sat down for a minute to briefly check my email, but obviously I couldn't mess this up, so I did some puttering around of my own on the interwebs until R and I, having to get up at reasonable hours, eventually abandoned sleeps-'til-noon Twelve to her book.

In the last hour, Twelve has wandered out of her room twice, raced me to the bathroom and been thrown out by her braid, sat in my lap, asked me what time I'm leaving the house this evening, and told me self-righteously that I should probably get ready to go: Herding.

I'm sure that the comparison of twelve-year-olds to sheepdogs is a major theme in the preadolescent development literature.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy Summer Days with Twelve

The two-week verdict: I'm having a great summer with Twelve. She slept in today, but when I got home from work she had jumped right in and gotten some of last night's porch sitting/cocktail party debris put away. She had helped me set out the glasses and bowl the snacks, and I have to say it's pretty cool to know that she just knows what needs to be done and can jump right in and do it. We followed our usual hosting routine: About an hour beforehand, I started running around tidying up and making the bathroom appear a little bit cleaner while Twelve did the fun getting-out-the-goodies part.

Okay, the peanut butter M&Ms really should have gone in a smaller bowl, but I make a point of letting her win certain battles: It's okay to just have the nine glasses set out because they look good that way on the tray (I'll just put out a few more as they get used). We can slice the medium cheddar cheese instead of the sharp (it was all eaten by the first two guests before anyone else got here anyway). You want to put the blue-and-red layered jell-o in the antique parfait glasses and squirt organic whipped cream on top? Fan-fucking-tastic. (They turned out totally cute.)

I also take her suggestions and questions seriously, even when it's totally unnecessary, as when she asked which shot glasses to get out: "Hmm, let's just do the tall ones. There are fewer of them and this isn't really that sort of party." Or, later: "It's totally fine if you want to arrange the beverages symmetrically on either side of the ice bowl."

"It's totally up to you" given in a matter-of-fact, deferential tone is my parenting secret weapon of choice at the moment.

If you asked me for advice about almost-thirteen-year-old people, that's what I'd tell you. I just ordered a few books about preadolescence (apparently this is what Twelve has), so I may soon have all the fancy technical terms for whatever this is called, but I'm feeling pretty confident that letting Twelve make all decisions possible and talking to her seriously about her suggestions is working.

This doesn't mean that she gets what she wants every time or wins every debate - I quite often exercise my veto power and/or talk her around to a certain option. But it means that I'm modeling logical thought processes to her AND that she knows what my thought process is when I make decisions that she doesn't like. Either way, we're talking, which I hear is apparently a short-lived state of affairs with people in her condition.

Preadolescent people also seem to simultaneously want and not-want you to be around. Case in point:

We went to the gym today for Twelve's first personal training appointment, and as we walked I coached her a bit on her goals for the training session (building core strength). She brushed me off at first, until I explained that if she doesn't want me to be involved with the session, she needs to know what to say to the trainer. We talked about it a little bit more (a classic example of how middle-class parents coach their children to navigate middle-class environs) and I concluded with, "It's my understanding that you don't want me to be a part of it at all, right?"

No, mom, I don't want you there at all.

In the preliminary chit-chat when we arrived, I explained to the trainer that I was just going to sit here and read a book on the couch while they did their thing, and lo and behold, Twelve flapped a hand dismissively (in that way she has) and said "Oh, you can come if you want." So I went along, double-checking for her benefit which column is the weight and which column is the number of repetitions, asking if she wanted to make a note that the yellow dumbbells are the right weight, and so on.

She didn't seem to mind my presence a bit - it was as if it's totally natural for a parent to accompany a child on a personal training appointment. I don't know if it would have been different if I had insisted from the beginning that I was going to be there, and eventually I'm sure she will remain adamant that she doesn't want me around, but for now I am happy to give Twelve the flexibility to go back and forth about it ... whatever the fancy technical term for that process may be.