Essay: Sex, SpongeBob and the Occasional Meal For Mom

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Illustration by Dori Hartley

My daughter is going through a particularly curious phase.

With her 13th birthday coming up in two months, she's both excited about the prospect of becoming a teenager and nostalgic for the good old days of being a big baby. Precariously balanced, she easily flits back and forth between the two worlds, showing that, at this point, she's not yet fully committed to either.

Currently obsessed with the word "sexy," she says it every chance she gets. It's a rite of passage for kids her age. "Sexy" words were out of reach for so long -- they were part of that taboo vocabulary that only belonged to adults and their idealicious predecessors: The glorious and revered teenagers. The PG-13 club.

Oh, to be a teen! Such glamour, such freedom -- it all seems so beautiful and promising. Between the ability to enter a movie that disallows people younger than you and the chance to legally have your own Facebook account, it's almost too good to be real. It's a concept that could really challenge the mind of any hormonal 12-year-old.

Until of course, you bring that child home from school, plop them on a couch with a remote, and witness them decide whether the rest of the afternoon will be spent watching Jersey Shore or a thousandth viewing of the everyone's favorite sponge: SpongeBob Squarepants.

"Whoooooo lives in a pineapple under the sea?"

"SpongeBob Squarepants!"

Nothing takes the sexy out of an emerging teen girl like a round of well-loved Nickelodeon cartoons, a plate full of animal shaped chicken nuggets and a request for Mom to come over and snuggle.

The girls at school are now all very conscious of their looks. Last year, the ones who wore make-up were thought of as sultry and provocative; this year, in 7th-grade, they're all wearing glitter on their lids and Justin Bieber nail polish.

And yes, even at 12, they're shaving their legs and shopping for undies at Victoria's Secret.

She tells me about how the boys at school are changing, too, how they tend to look at her differently. Seems she's no longer a booger-face girl. Now she's somehow become the object of desire, even though the boys themselves have no real idea of what it is they're feeling for her.

Whatever it is they're feeling, it's enough to keep them all in a constant state of sexual semi-awareness. That is, until the ice cream truck comes driving up the street.

"Don't forget to wait for the change!" I yell, as I watch my kid run towards the truck with the five dollar bill I just handed her.

Within minutes, she's back by my side, holding a vanilla cone covered in multi-colored sprinkles, and just like old times, ice cream dripping over her fingers at a rate so unnervingly fast, I'm forced to reach into my bag for whatever napkin-type paper thing I can find.

"Where's my change?" I ask.

"I forgot."

"Well, go get it. I know that didn't cost five bucks. Go on, the guy's still there."

Once again, she dashes off with the kind of energy and exuberance that might have hospitalized me, had I tried it myself.

It's just a matter of seconds before she hands me a sticky couple of dollar bills, three pink and blue sprinkles and a handful of vanilla-coated coins.

Later on she tells me that she saw some cute boys on the ice cream line.

"I think they were looking at me too," she says.

Sighing, I look at my gorgeous girl and think, "I'm sure they were, my love. I'm sure they were."

It's a strangely confusing time for these kids, and I imagine they're all going through the same kind of polarized tug as my daughter. At this point, the lines are still blurry for her, and even though she's become quite adept in hair and make-up artistry, her hour-long sessions in the bathroom tend to remind me of the old days when she'd exit my closet, dressed up in all of my clothes.

Especially at 4:30 in the afternoon, when the bathroom door finally opens and she stands in front of me, fully decked out and made up for what would have to be her imaginary stint at the Video Music Awards.

"Mom, whaddya think? Do you like what I did to my eyes? What do you think about the lip line? I used that special brush that you told me about..."

With age comes responsibility, and though they're not in the car-driving phase just yet, they are realizing that more is going to be expected of them as time goes by. It must be intimidating, knowing that every hormonal kick they feel progressively takes them further and further away from the comfort of SpongeBob Squarepants.

However, there is an upside: There's the joy of being old enough now to make dinner for Mom.

I think I'm going to like this teenage phase.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.