Every year when the calendar page turns over to December, I have the same initial thought that most Americans have – the only significance December held for me for 26 years: “Oh, hey, it’s almost Christmas!” This means buying presents, decorating the tree, hanging stockings, singing carols.

But ever since 2006, December has meant a little bit more to me – my sweet Ruby (aka “my baby” because of course both of my kids are forever “my baby”) was born Dec. 21, and so now December also means birthday cake, sleepovers, nostalgia, and a whole different set of presents.

This year marks a particular milestone, one I’ve been warned about since I first announced that I was having a girl: My baby will officially be a teenager.

Here are 13 things that are all true about this age.

  1. Her infancy and toddlerhood seem a lifetime ago. When I think about the person who brought Ruby home from the hospital, I can’t believe it was me. I was so young and scared and confused. I had no idea how or why they had sent me home with a newborn baby. Now I am an old hand with infants. And now that she eats spicy Takis and sushi and burritos and ramen and gumbo and chicken wings, it seems insane to imagine the days of coaxing her to eat a bite of rice cereal.
  2. It’s going so fast. I still remember the smell of her neck folds, the softness of her cheeks, the feeling of her little chubby hands against my lips. I remember the heaviness of her in the baby wrap around my neck and shoulders. I remember her first steps and her first words. I remember watching her toddle gleefully after a butterfly. How in the world is she about to be 13?!?
  3. She’s stunningly mature. We talk about politics and feminism and science and religion and sex and drugs and morality. When I picked her up from the skating rink the other day, she casually told me that she had won a free drink but it didn’t have a lid and so she was wary of leaving it unattended because what if someone drugged it. She’s had friends threaten suicide and has dutifully reported them to the school counselor. She worries about mental health and climate change and using the right pronouns.
  4. She is still a child. She tells dumb jokes. She doesn’t fully grasp all of the finer points of hygiene. She gets really excited about candy and ice cream. The other day, she burped and then laughed for about 10 minutes.
  5. She reminds me so much of myself. Like me at the same age, she is anxious and self-critical and obsessed with making good grades and extremely risk-averse. She is responsible and empathetic and a chronic nail-biter. Every middle school heartache she goes through makes me remember my own analogous pain.
  6. She is so different than I was. She loves sports and roller derby and has tons of friends all over the country. A natural extrovert, she lives for sleepaway camp and parties and school events. She’s an optimist who loves inspirational quotes; I was born cynical.
  7. We like so many of the same things. Now that she is out of her Nick Jr. phase, we share so much. Cooking shows. True crime. Spicy food. Coffee.
  8. We have completely different taste. I can’t think of anything more torturous than hanging out at the mall – except maybe watching beauty vlogs on YouTube – two of her favorite pastimes. She thinks the library is boring when clearly it’s the best place on earth, and she hates chocolate because she is wrong.
  9. She’s so much more chill. The same child who once threw a shoe at my head in the car because the coffee shop drive-thru was out of her favorite kind of muffin is now able to take minor – and even major –disappointments in stride.
  10. She is a ball of emotions. On Friday night, I made her a batch of snickerdoodles because they’re her favorite cookie and she said she felt like sweets. When I brought her two on a plate with a glass of milk, she burst into tears because she was so happy. “They’re even still warm from the oven,” she choked out. “Why are you so nice?”
  11. She is selfish. She doesn’t want to share her American Girl dolls with her sister, even though she hasn’t played with them in years. She thinks everyone in the house should be quiet when she is in a bad mood. She demands that I wash her favorite T-shirt immediately with no regard to what else I have going on in my life.
  12. She is kind and giving. When she and her sister both wanted treats at the Renaissance Fest last week and I couldn’t buy them because I was out of cash and Ruby subsequently found $5 in her pocket, her first thought was to buy the cotton candy her sister wanted and not the caramel apple she herself wanted. She is doing chores and saving money to buy Christmas presents for the whole family this year. She will get up early with the puppy on the weekends and let me sleep in.

These all sound like contradictions – and with good reason. This age is wonderful and horrible and painful and thrilling. It’s the best of times and the worst of times. Some nights when she goes to bed, I climb in next to her and hold her tight, silently willing her to never grow up and move away. Other nights when she goes to bed, I think, “Thank God she is asleep now, and maybe tomorrow will be better.” Some nights I glow with love. Some nights I feel like I’ve been to war.

But the last thing stands alone and it is never a contradiction; it is never not true.

13. The other night, she looked at me and said earnestly, “Mom, you’re my best friend,” and I said, “You’re mine, too, kid.”

And I hope we both feel the same way forever.

A Baker’s Dozen