It Just Happened

It begins with you pushing a stroller through a mall. Your first shopping trip together. You flick through the onesies, the leggings, that cute little baby ACDC t-shirt. So sweet, the stripes, the sun hats, the tiny little socks. Presents are given, choices are made, you have your favourite combinations. Sometimes after bath-time you flick your child’s hair into a mo-hawk, slick back a fringe or see if you have enough for a pony tail.

In the toddler years you find yourself wrestling with a child in the middle of a play centre, begging them to “just sit” while you put on their shoes. You begin the morning by chasing a set of little legs throughout the house with a pair of long pants “please, sweetie, it’s minus two outside, please can we wear pants today?” Certain colours become favourites. T-shirts are thrown into the washing machine at bedtime to ensure they can be worn again the following morning. You’ll find yourself at the park explaining the wearing of the Spiderman gum boots/wellingtons in the middle of a heat wave. “She hasn’t taken them off since Tuesday” you’ll shrug. You’ve giving up caring. As long as she’s fed and dry, with no visible signs of head lice you’re happy.

As a tween you’ll beg for a t-shirt change. Implore for hair to be brushed. Ignore toothpaste stains. You’ll stand in a department store and hold up item after item while a child sighs, eye rolls and groans. “I’m not wearing a dress” she’ll say to you. “I don’t do pockets on shirts” he’ll say wincing in pain. You’ll negotiate over sneakers, curse your low wasted jeans as you bend for the twentieth time to check how much room is in the toe of the shoes, he swears they’re just right but you know they’re too small. You’ll think you’ve done it all. You haven’t. For you’re about to hit the teens, and if you have a daughter, there is nothing, nothing that will prepare you for what comes next.

I can’t put my finger on a date, or a time, but the twelve year old girl who wore nothing but soccer shorts and over sized t-shirts somehow lost her braces and discovered skinny jeans, Forever 21, and nail polish. Pumpkin Patch is a distant memory, we now wander through white tiled stores with half dressed floor staff and doof doof music at a volume of 11. My voice trails off as she picks things off the rack for a closer look, the dress with the back cut out of it, “that’s cuuuuuuuuute” I say with an inside prayer of dear god please no.

Living in The Middle East has its benefits when it comes to dressing your teen. Nothing too short, shoulders covered – we have certain clothes that are geographical “I’ll put these away for Australia”. The year 8 dance is different though, it’s indoors and as we walk into the store I’m reminded “we’re allowed to show our shoulders”.  Joy.

Three dresses are chosen, she has great taste and I am genuinely into the shopping experience, and then she came out of the change room. As the door swung open I caught sight of my soon to be 14 year old and began to search for a fire blanket or bed sheet, anything to throw over her would have done. He legs lean and long, her shoulders perfect, she looks fantastic, and about 19 years old.

“Wow! You look, wow!”

I look over to see a young man who appears to have become distracted by my baby’s legs. I shoot him an I’m about to take off my shoe and start beating you over the head look, it takes all my strength not to grab him by the neck and shout “STOP LOOKING AT HER”. He catches my eye and quickly looks down at his phone.

As each dress comes out we discuss its merits, I play with straps, pull at lining and we both giggle over things that can be altered and things that cannot. As she stands in front of the mirror with a beaming smile, happy with her choice, I agree, tell her she’s beautiful and congratulate her on the bargain price. She returns behind the door to get changed back into her PE uniform.

“Your daughter is very beautiful” says a shop assistant who’s collecting coat hangers while she monitors the comings and goings of the fitting room.

“Yes, it just happened.” I say, making no sense at all.

It begins with you pushing a stroller through a mall.

It just happened.

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