Granddaughter No. 1 just turned 13. Yikes.
Besides the knee-jerk "I'm not old enough to have a teenage grandchild!" reaction, Lilly's milestone birthday has caused me a great deal of consternation over finding the perfect gift. OK, that's an exaggeration. I'm not really distressed; I'm not even stressed. I'm just stumped.
What do you get a 13-year-old for her birthday these days? It doesn't even have to be perfect. I'd settle for anything that doesn't make her say, "Oh, Grandma's SO uncool." Then again, she probably wouldn't say that in any case, because the word "uncool" is . . . uh . . . uncool.
Turning 13, on the other hand, is very cool, and I wanted to send Lilly an appropriate gift for her special occasion. But teenhood and coolness are not what they used to be. When I turned 13, back in the olden days, I wanted a pastel blue Princess phone for my bedroom. In fact, I would have been happy with any phone, just to have my own extension (I did get a Princess, two years later). Lilly already has a smartphone and uses it proficiently.
At 13, I'd tasted puppy love and had my first kiss, but was a year or so away from wearing makeup and perfume. Going steady meant hanging out together at recess and passing "1-4-3" notes in class. We never saw each other outside of school, except for Tuesday nights at Kahului Library. On the pretext of researching school projects, we'd ask our parents to drop us off for a couple of hours, which they gladly did, of course. The more daring couples would sneak over to Dairy Queen for french fries or a curly-tipped cone, but most of us were happy just to sit at the library tables and talk.
I don't know whether Lilly's kissed a boy yet, but I can see that she knows a lot more about makeup and fashion than I did at her age. She wears just a hint of lipstick and eyeliner, and at 5 feet 5 inches tall, looks older than she is. Thankfully, she's still a sweet and relatively innocent kid, more tween than teen. I know that from having spent a lot of time with her during her recent visit to Maui. And from checking her Facebook page.
Kids are maturing faster these days, at least in the physical sense. Emotionally and intellectually, I'm not so sure. Lilly's Facebook posts remind me of the notes we girls exchanged in junior high. She and her friends giggle and chat over the same stuff we did: boys, school, boys, clothes, boys. They express the same 13-year-old dreams and desires, anxieties and apprehensions. What a relief to find that even though they're technologically advanced, today's kids are still just kids.
I do feel a little sorry for them. Their world is so much more complicated than ours was. Peer pressure was hard enough when generated by a handful of classmates. But when you've got hundreds of "friends" you've never even met, weighing in on your latest photo upload, the potential for drama and angst is greatly intensified.
And thanks to social media, the handwritten love note has become obsolete. Lilly may never feel the thrill of pulling out a wrinkled scrap of paper from her wallet and rereading, for the umpteenth time, a young boy's declaration of love. "I think you're cute" is so much more charming in a youthful scrawl than typed on a screen. And with GPS on her smartphone, she'll never be able to sneak away from the library without her dad finding out.
So what did I get Lilly for her 13th birthday? After weeks of consideration and debate, I sent her a card with money and a grandmotherly, handwritten note. And I texted her a couple of times. Just so she'd think Grandma's cool.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.