They spend a few long minutes in front of the mirror making sure their hair is combed, their clothes match and their jewelry is in place. From the hallway I watch the preening with a tight smile and no small measure of wistfulness. Those carefree days of childhood, I realize with a pang, are crowding fast into the rearview mirror.
But then, not more than a half hour later, my granddaughters transition from the self-conscious act of grooming to something more mundane but no less important. They’re happily playing house with their younger sister, lining up a collection of little wooden frogs and giving each a distinct voice and a special role.
The Twins, my oldest grandchildren at 11 1/2 (and don’t forget the half!), are well-ensconced in that spot I call The In-Between: not yet teenagers but not quite little girls either. It’s a quicksandy kind of place, with shifting allegiances, evolving friendships and more than a few bouts of drama. They are, by all account, official tweens, steady voyagers in the switchbacked path from childhood to adolescence. It happens when puberty begins its long stroll to the porch but before its fateful knock at the front door.
One day tweens are all about doing things for themselves. The next they cling like infants. One hour they’re giggling, the next they’ve turned as dark and angry as the summer sky before a thunderstorm. It’s a tumultuous trip, one that will only get more frantic with higher highs and lower lows.
Of course, some changes are gradual but also more enduring. Many children begin to shed their baby fat and display the leaner lines of adulthood. With others the opposite happens; a rawboned figure starts to flesh out into curves. It’s a metamorphosis we all experience, some sooner, some later, and it’s that unpredictable timeline that often determines the pecking order at school.
For girls, body changes in tweenhood seem to happen overnight — or at least that’s what it feels like for grandparents. When The Twins were introduced to training bras, I acknowledge this passage with surprise and amusement. That feeling, however, slipped into sadness, a sense that life was moving too fast. Whatever happened to those bald babies I rocked to sleep just yesterday?
Along with the fascinating undergarments come the dreaded (and mortifying) breakouts of acne, which, in turn, mean more time in the bathroom because pimples require elaborate face-washing and lotion-applying. And lest I forget late tweenhood also brings other changes: mutating sleep habits, an outsized interest in who likes whom, a sudden desire for privacy, the haranguing for cellphones, the eye-rolling and the whatevers, the painful realization that parents — and by extension grandparents — don’t know everything. Actually, we likely know nothing.
Soon enough they won’t allow me any public displays of affection, especially not in front of friends. Soon enough, too, the National Geographic videos I show them won’t be so interesting. Soon enough the news stories about space, about dinosaurs, about new inventions and old civilizations will be vanquished by Snapchat and TikTok.
Oh, so many changes — my heart can hardly bear them.
But I will and I must, even as I ache with the knowledge that separation is necessary, detachment inevitable. Having been here before, having survived it with their father, makes me hold on to our moments together with a fierce faith that this is only a phase, only a short step in a long road that eventually winds its way back home.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.