I look at her sometimes without recognition.
The teenager she will be in four short years has already wiped her muddy shoes on our welcome mat and made our acquaintance.
Become a little too familiar, even.
This strange new guest ransacks our daughter's room, stuffs dirty socks between couch cushions and chews on her hair until it's drenched.
Her hair – long and tangled, locks akimbo as strands attempt to escape their binding -- seems to have a will of its own as the mane flaps between her shoulder blades. A weightless plait of matted ravel.
She thinks it's perfect just the way it is, rats' nest and all. On this I do not fight her.
We are not so dissimilar.
She is small and large. She seems both young and old. She is a mixture of me and him, and yet, she is not really ours.
In the dressing room of her mind, she tries on personalities as if they were costumes for a future play.
But these days I never know which character she's in the midst of developing will walk out on stage.
Will it be the sweet sister? The helpful daughter? The social butterfly?
Or will it be the prickly pear?
We call that one Attitude-y Judy.
She wears sullen and moody like an oversized hat. She paws at it as it wobbles around on her forehead changing her expression. She adjusts the tilt obsessively until I demand she take it off. I know it won't be long until it fits a little too snugly.
More and more it feels as if we talk at each other. Neither knowing how much the other hears.
She can be a non-stop fount of questions.
Other times she's the know-it-all who has no qualms about telling strangers all the ways I'm doing it wrong.
She's my Best Friend Forever one day and my Best Friend Nellie Olsen the next.
Sometimes she's the little girl she used to be, playing with dolls and asking me to read a story from a favorite book.
Nowhere contains more evidence of her splintering self than her bedroom. A four-poster bed sleeps the girl and all of her favorite stuffed animals. A hanging chair, where she nests to read, has Barbie Dolls and back issues of Tiger Beat magazine. A variety of clothes are strewn about after they'd been modeled but not worn. They mingle with clothes of the doll variety, props modeled by diminutive doppelgangers simultaneously. The dolls still have subordinate roles in this new endeavor.
The strangeness, though, is not confined to her transformation. It has afflicted mine as well.
She sings a rambling song of repetition in a made-up language. I just want to shush her.
She tells me she wants to say silly things to a toll collector and I hiss: “Don't you dare.”
She gets a glint in her eye and snaps back: 'You said 'Dare'.”
But she doesn't dare.
For the time being, Attitude-y Judy is satisfied with just popping in now and again, snooping through bath cabinets and testing bedsprings. She doesn't feel completely welcome.
I know it won't be long until her visits seem interminable.
By then the welcome mat won't matter.