05/11/2012 12:09 pm ET Updated Jul 11, 2012

What I Know About Motherhood Now That I'm A Mother Of Tweens

I am the hopelessly harried but crazy-about-my-kids mother of two tween girls.

Do I even need to say more?

Yes, my girls are only 18 months apart in age, and right now they are 11 and 12 ½ years old. I've bragged for years that a huge advantage to popping out two kids of the same gender in just over a year's time is that they're best friends, they're at the same point developmentally, and they like the same stuff.

I am cringing just thinking about how the moms who had tweens before me must have been laughing behind my back.

Still, in the past almost-13 years of motherhood, I've learned a lot. Oh, yes, I have.

Tweens will not tell you anything you really, really need to know -- but will fill your brain with all kinds of unimportant stuff. What kind of bamboo do pandas eat? How many Twizzlers would it take to make a licorice chain to the moon? Which tributes in "The Hunger Games" were from District 2? I know all about them. But the fact that half a molar "fell off" at school today? I'm not going to know about that until dinner time, long after the dentist has headed home. The need for South African food for the UN banquet at school tomorrow? They'll wait until, oh, 10:30 p.m. to spring that on me. Asking, "Anything you need to tell me? Any notes from school or dental emergencies?" does not yield results. I've tried.

Tweens know about and understand lots of stuff that you don't think they do. The inequitable application of the death penalty? My tweens have asked me all about it and wondered at the unfairness. Candy bars in the school vending machines? My tweens have worn expressions of disbelief while telling me about suspended Snickers. When I took my tweens to the United States Supreme Court, they protested at having to wear dresses but surprised me by listening carefully to the tour of the courtroom, then telling me all about King John and the Magna Carta (nope, I hadn't remembered that it was King John, either).

Tweens want to push their own limits. OK, I'll admit it, I'm kind of a coddly type mom (when half a tooth falls off at school, I'm on the phone to the emergency dentist faster than you can say "floss"), but my tweens often surprise me with their resilience and wherewithal. Last month, for example, my 12-year-old got stranded in a major city's train station while I was stuck in a traffic jam on the way to pick her up. I was a mess. She was psyched to hit Au Bon Pain for a cupcake. The same kid, so shy that she fled the stage during the kindergarten play (and has never appeared on stage since), agreed to be interviewed on NPR last summer about the end of the shuttle program -- because this kid, terrified of roller coasters and of people dressed up in costumes, is going to be the first woman astronaut on Mars, complete with bubblehead space suit, and she had to tell the world about it.

Tweens do not want you to push their limits. Asking for mannerly quiet during a long lecture at a museum? Uh uh. Hoping for cooperation with a pediatric nurse wielding a booster shot? Might as well try to fly to the moon. Going for extra help in seventh grade math without being dragged there? Yeah, right.

You have to fight for your tweens. And you have to let your tweens fight their own battles. The trick is knowing which and when. Homeroom teacher shaming your kid in front of the other kids over her math grade? Butt in. Homeroom teacher making your kid sit next to a kid who smells? Butt out. Pediatrician threatening your tween that she will have to remain locked in the office until Monday if she doesn't come out from under the exam table and get her booster shot? Give doc a piece of your mind. Pediatrician jabbing the booster shot in on the count of one when she said she'd count to three? Just thank goodness it's finally over.

The big girl/little girl divide is a chasm bigger than anything you'd see in "The Hunger Games." Here's what I mean: Little girls like pink. And purple. And Target decals of flowers and butterflies on their walls. Big girls admit to liking pink, but only certain shades like fuschia. Only babies would like any shade of purple. Big girls like Target decals, but only the cool ones like peace signs, and they have this tendency to tack the empty decal sheets on their bedroom walls with at least nine tacks per sheet, then grin when Mom yells so loudly the whole neighborhood can hear. Also:

  • Little girls love Chap-stick. Big girls deny taking your Clinique Black Honey lip gloss out of your purse, and anyway, so what if they did? It's universally flattering.
  • Little girls like Mommy to tuck them in before bed. Big girls worry that if Mom tucks them in, she might figure out that they are wearing ear buds and listening to an iPod Touch under the covers. All. Night. Long. So they dash into their rooms after brushing their teeth and pretend to be asleep before she can get in there.
  • Little girls cheer when it's time for school. Big girls swear they are not getting out from under the covers. School is dumb. It doesn't matter whether they want to be astronauts when they grow up, they can do that without seventh grade math. Go away.
  • Little girls plan to live with Mommy when they grow up, even after they have babies of their own. Big girls ask: "How old do you have to be to go to college?"

But here's the secret that moms of tween girls know: Inside every big girl, there is a little girl who is just dying to show her face. She wants bedtime snuggles, but she has to pretend that she can't unfasten her necklace and so must lie down beside you to let you reach it. Little girls just hop right in and hog the covers.

Tweens are still a part of you. The very best thing about having tweens is seeing them transition from little girl to big girl. Even when they feel like strangers, even when they hide under the covers or the exam table, even when they fly to Mars, they are your babies. They know it, and you know it. And that's the thing -- yes, the one thing -- that will never change.