Today is Anna’s twelfth birthday.
I don’t know exactly what to do with this. It goes without saying that you only turn twelve once, and this being the case Anna gets all the attention today. We started with bacon and blueberry pancakes to go along with presents. This afternoon we head to the Big City with her violin teacher to pick out the violin that she’s now grown into. We finish with fondue at the restaurant downtown with valet parking and dimmed lighting.
I suggested last night to Anna that it was the last night that I’d be reading stories, since such a practice should end at age twelve. Reading before bed is a tradition that’s been more consistent and enduring for Anna and Grace than it was for me. I don’t know exactly why this is, except for the possible explanation that Karyn and I are simply better parents than my own parents. And yet, I had to be the asshole who facetiously suggested to my dear daughter that her childhood was about to end unless Peter Pan could save her.
To her credit, she didn’t believe me for a moment.
So the lanky, beautiful kid with braces and a training bra still loves to hear a story read out loud, gives her father a hug when she leaves for school, hides the same doll that she’s had since she was an infant under her bedsheets. She loves music and math, dance and literature; she loathes boys (except her younger cousins). I’m fine with all this. I’d lament that this birthday marks the crossing over to an age where all this could change, except this doesn’t seem so evident. We’ll see, next year, when there’s junior high.
For now, Anna’s turning twelve is not about her, but about me. I remember being at age twelve — not just “being twelve,” but the memory of my being at that age. I remember my crushes and jealousies and frustrations and celebrations. And now I’m looking at turning forty in a few months, and I can remember being the kid Anna’s age who witnessed his dad turning forty. And that’s all very weird.
It’s easy to write about the weirdness and the nostalgia in all this. (But more painful to read, no doubt.) It’s harder to express the more important lesson. It’s not the reticence to be getting older, but the comfort I have at least for the moment. Anna has braces, and I have hair growing out of my ears. She’ll get pimples, but I already have wrinkles. Neither of us recognizes the person we see in ourselves, but we recognize the other. In my eyes, she’s both the newborn with strawberry blonde strands of hair, eyes closed, wrapped in a bundle of the taut, crisp hospital blanket. And, she’s the slightly taller and confident woman that’s she’s becoming, that she doesn’t even see yet. To her eyes, I’m the wrinkled, tired, grey haired man, the guy that suggests that childhood must end. And she’s the one she sees right through, facetiousness and callousness and all. She’s happy to listen to me read Peter Pan, practically sitting on the windowsill myself. She’s there to say “I love you” as she leaves for school. I’m glad that she’s one of a few people who can see through me, and that she’s open to me to be seen herself, at age twelve and beyond.