08/11/2014 05:22 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2014

What Happened When My Daughter Asked for a Bra

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So, it happened today. A parenting moment I have imagined and feared.

We zipped into Target for a bike lock and flip-flops, and my 9-year-old asked, "Can I try on a bra?"

I needed to scream.


I wanted to feign appendicitis or set the store on fire. Anything to avoid answering her.

Instead, I was overtaken by a strange calm. I became a hip, big sister-type mom instead of the prudish harpy who doesn't let her kids wear tank tops to church.

"Sure," unflappable me replied. And, no biggie, we ambled over to the youth undergarments.

My daughter (thankfully) passed on the padded ones, we laughed together at the zebra stripes, and she headed off to the fitting room with a modest selection.

The whole episode lasted about 13 minutes. Afterwards, we went out for ice cream.

I was not this cool about puberty when I was its target. I was embarrassed and silly and secretive about everything from eyeliner to maxi pads. I found my first training bra in a bag of hand-me-downs and I squirreled it away under my mattress, slipping it on when no one was home, sneaking glances in the mirror and looking for signs of The Change. Maybe it was Catholicism, maybe it was the '80s, but I did not look that business of growing up straight in the eyes.

My kid, though, has poise. I like to think I raised her right. Of course, I still lie to the DMV people about my weight and tell telemarketers they have the wrong number, so probably directness comes from my husband's people. I worry that my daughter's openness about this first rite of passage will be matched by equal candor about the next biggies: periods, sexuality, birth control. Egads. I feel more appendicitis coming on. Perhaps I will learn to summon my inner groovy mama more often. Or maybe I will realize that my kiddo wanting to talk to me about these changes is so much more preferable than the alternative.

In the store today, I know she appreciated that I did not embarrass her or say she was too young. I did not try to puzzle through what it all meant (at least not right then). And even though I was inwardly panicked -- "Who are you? What have you done with my baby girl?" -- I kept my composure.

Sure, I considered fleeing the store. But I like the lessons I learned by staying. Child-rearing milestones do not come with warning signs. They sneak up and sock you in the jaw. My daughter and I were not lying on a picnic blanket near the sea. We were in the dog food aisle. She asked me a grown-up question and I gave her a grown-up answer. Even though I wanted to wriggle out of that moment like a child.

I guess sometimes my kid is gonna hold my hand and lead me through the tricky business of growing up, whether I'm ready for it or not.