I know, that whole "and-a-half" thing usually gets jettisoned before a kid's tenth birthday, but in her case, twelve and-a-half is closer to fifteen than it is twelve, know what I mean?
I don't consider my daughter a "tween" anymore; she's a bona fide, one hundred percent, USDA certified teenager. Numbers schmumbers.
We're spending the weekend together, just the two of us, mano e womano, or however the saying goes. My wife and older daughter fled to the windy brushlands of eastern Washington, touring the brick-and-ivy-encrusted campus of Central Washington University along with a friend and her daughter.
It's been a father-daughter Saturday.
If you were to enjoy slightly more than one cup of Sanka in the presence of our nuclear family, you'd understand that our younger daughter must have swum in amniotic fluid stocked with more of my characteristics than there are fat grams at Costco.
We share a love of art, food, drink and music, but not in that order. Food would probably be number one. We're a little too sensitive and we take things a bit too personally. We can sit or lie down for long periods of time, often only shuffling about after our lungs begin retaining fluid.
We like sleeping. Mmm, do we.
But since her road trip to adolescence has reached the Midwestern states, she's become like an ant beneath a magnifying glass. Each school day is a Shakespearean comedy or tragedy. The same friend on Wednesday may play the role of Portia, the plucky and insightful heroine in The Merchant of Venice, yet on Thursday, transform into the betraying Brutus from The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
Every emotion is raw and intense, and my challenge as her father is to plow a straight line through these sine waves of sensitivity.
This morning, her soccer team lost another hard fought battle. In fact, they've lost every battle this fall; they're zero for autumn. After the game, she broke down. She waited until we had walked safely out of sight of her teammates and their parents, and then opened the floodgates.
"Dad, I'm just so tired of losing. And those girls were so rough and number sixteen played really dirty and I just want to win a game." Tears rolled down her frosty red cheeks.
My first inclination, as usual, was to solve the problem, then and there. I wanted to say, "Look, you guys have improved so much this year. You used to get blown out every week, but now you've been playing everyone so tough. Just hang in there. Good things will happen eventually."
But I didn't. For once, I just listened.
You see, she really wasn't asking Mr. Alpha Male to solve her problems. She just wanted me to shut up and hear her out.
My twelve-and-a-half-year-old vented her frustrations as the car heated up on the drive back home, and by the time we rolled into the driveway, she'd put the soccer game in the rearview mirror.
"Hey," I said, unlocking the mailbox, "how would you like to go see the new James Bond movie?"
"Okay. I'm going to do a little yard work. How about if you take a shower and then we go?"
She calls me Tim on random occasions. "Yeah, Tim. That sounds great!"
The mall parking lot was packed. As the movie time creeped up on us, we still couldn't find a parking spot. Her emotions again ran rampant.
"Dad, I don't even want to see this movie! This is just too stressful!"
"It'll be fine." I tried to reassure her. "The movie doesn't even start until the previews are done, and that's, like, fifteen minutes from now. And if it's already started, we'll just go to the next one."
By the time we'd parked somewhere around Iowa and traipsed into the carpeted lobby of the googolplex cinema, James Bond was one secret agent we realized we wouldn't be seeing. The lines were massive, even for the screening which wouldn't begin for another ninety minutes. We slumped against a brass railing.
"What do you think?" I asked. "How about if we take the money it would have cost to go to the movie and just shop around for something that costs twenty dollars? Hey," I remembered, "Nordstrom is having their half yearly sale. Maybe we can find something there. We can look in BP."
"Okay, yeah," she said. "Yeah, that's even better than a movie, Tim."
And then she melted me...again. "Dad, thanks for bringing me here. I know you tried. Can I have a hug?"
This young woman is not the hugging sort, so, boy, did I hug her. She didn't even seem to care if the cool police had posted its elite mall surveillance team, but she still had to finally pry me away.
We shopped and talked and smelled stuff at the bath shop. And then, at Nordstrom, she found the prettiest dress which satisfied the twenty dollar requirement—give or take five bucks. I waited as she tried it on, and wondered if she'd actually walk out and show me how it looked, remembering her self-conscious nature.
As I sat outside the dressing room, I felt my phone vibrate and expected it to have been a message from my wife or other daughter.
I slid open my phone and read the message—"What do you think?" I pressed the "OK" button to reveal a self-portrait of my girl, in front of a three-way mirror a few feet away, wearing the dress and the most beautiful smile I'd ever seen.
"It's fantastic," I punched in. My eyes welled ever so slightly.
It's been a good day.