One of the joys and tragedies of siblings is how much the little one picks up.

When my daughter was in first grade, I was welcome in the classroom, on field trips, anywhere. She was glad to see me until at least fourth grade, when she started setting limits of how much (or if) I could go into her classroom. By fifth grade I was too embarrassing to go near “her wing” of the school. I’m allowed near the younger kids classrooms and the office, but not her space! Unless she forgot her trumpet, then she’d like it discreetly dropped off outside the door. No noise or faces please. 

I guess it was inevitable that my little guy would pick up on this. First grade, and I have to get special permission from my 7-year-old to go on field trips!

I get it, they have to differentiate. We can’t expect them to just snuggle sweetly and dependently until we send them off to college, so they practice, and practice, and practice. Separation. From a very close range. 

So when my daughter changed her name to Shaun (or Shaun the Sheep or Shawn Mendez) and starting writing it on all her papers, I wasn’t surprised that not long after my son announced that he is now named Spike. “When I join the Marines,” he explained, “I’ll need a name like Spike.” I guess I can see his point.

For about a week now if I accidentally call him by his old, legal name, I get an earful.

“Daddy! That’s not my name! My name is… Um. What’s my name again?”

I remind him it’s Spike.

“Right! Spike. My name is Spike.”

“OK, Spike, I’ll try to remember.”

Everything changes.

Today my daughter turns 11. In a way it’s not as momentous as 10, the first double digit, the start of the “tween.” But of course it’s huge. She’s slowly, selectively, but relentlessly starting her morph into being a woman. She’s ending elementary school (with an appropriately complex set of Graduation events and ceremonies), heading into middle school. The sixth graders have their own space in the middle school, and they ease them into changing classes, using lockers, etc. But it’s a seismic shift from elementary school.

Because she’s going to be walking to school with a posse next year, and because some of her friends are going to different middle schools, and because she’s destined to be a supreme court justice, she talked us into getting her a phone for her birthday. In a small victory, I got her a dumb phone, not a smart one. It’s a flip phone, that can text and call, but doesn’t have apps, or a selfie camera (though it has a outfacing camera), or a real keyboard. Remember typing by number? That’s the phone.

If you ever want to know what it might feel like to be an irrelevant person in this world, go into any phone store and start asking about flip phones. Explain that it’s for your daughter and you don’t want any features on it. The best sales people can almost conceal their revulsion and contempt, but most of the kids in these places will look at you sadly, and show you the big-button phones, speaking slowly and clearly.

I managed to feint that she really probably wouldn’t get a phone, probably not yet, many of her friends still don’t have one and won’t going into next year. So she was excited to get it, her own phone, her own number. There was genuine joy. But teaching her to use this antiquated device has been humbling. It really is dumb, the operating system has likely not been updated since 2003.

I guess this, too, is the Tween experience. Life has its limitations and disappointments. The thing you most wanted may let you down.

And of course there’s plenty of trouble to be found with texts and photos! This morning I’ve managed to convince myself that I’m both an idiot for even trying to protect her from reality, and a fool for giving her any sort of phone. There’s no winning the parent game, at least in my own head.

Luckily the big birthday event is a tradition even older than smart phones. Tonight she’s bringing a couple friends to see a movie. The new Star Wars! If that doesn’t bring me back to being 11, I don’t know what would. May the Force be with us all. We’re going to need it.