I realized as I repeated the question again to 12, she was still not paying attention. Or she was on some level, but I could tell her full attention lay elsewhere. My first thought was she had a headache as she is prone to those. But as I looked towards the direction of her distraction, I paused… not sure if what I was seeing was what held her so gaze: A boy-man, my guess 19, on the brink of 20, slender, with a full head of blond hair cut short summer-style. He was wearing the preppy pre-requisite “staff uniform”: crisp white shirt tucked into fitted white jeans, with a pink whale signature belt. He leaned in to pour water, and I saw my daughter’s smile get wider. I knew it wasn’t a headache that held her attention.

It was a typical summer Sunday afternoon, hot and humid, but we were sitting in the room off the main room, with windows as walls, so could feel the ocean’s breeze as we ordered our lunch. After a fun day at the beach with friends the previous day, we were not ready to head home and “back to normal” so had taken the scenic route home to stop for lunch by the water. This is where we first encountered this “man” in white jeans.

It was not the first time I noticed my daughter’s attention focus on that of the opposite sex. In fact, for years the object of her affection, had been in our living room daily as he argued with his sister, or bandmates, or parents. “Teen Nick” had first introduced my daughter – actually daughters – to their first crushes. While teen boys with long hair (or short) depending on the show, cruised by with their perfect jeans, or serenaded their neighbors with their perfect voice, or helped their mother carry groceries inside with their perfect arms, my daughters flipped the channels finding their “perfect” boy.

My husband and I often laugh at the very mature and romantic dialogue in some of these TV shows, because at 12 or 14 I have yet to find a boy act like this in real life. (And yes, we have found ourselves watching these shows long after the girls are upstairs, it’s amazing the drama in some of these shows!) I don’t remember Mike Seaver leaving home to live with his friends in a high end hotel in Hollywood and reach the top of the music charts all before he was 18. Yes, Growing Pains introduced me to Kirk Cameron, who became my first crush before finding my real one in high school. How simple days were back then. Growing Pains and The Facts of Life and no social media. No phone distractions, no online games, no youtube videos.

For the last few years, though, since she entered middle school, my daughter’s TV  crushes have gone by the wayside, only to be replaced by real ones. Boys she knows from school, boys she sees in cars, or apparently now our cute server.

I have already told her once to put her phone away as we entered the restaurant, thinking how nice it will be to talk about our fun weekend, instead of looking at her head like faced down. As our kind blond boy-man takes our order, I make a huge mistake and ask for another set of crayons, for 12, thinking she can entertain herself the old fashioned way, like her sister and color while we wait.

Huge. Gigantic. Mistake.

She will be 13 in a month, and is distracted this boy-man hovering nearby pouring water in our glasses.

And I ask for crayons for her.

She gives me the death stare, followed by “really mom?!” as he places not only crayons but a coloring page in front of her.

More death stare. I ignore it.

It must be the summer, the heat, or just the old fashioned fun weekend we had playing with friends at the beach which has me nostalgic for the simpler days when my girls were little. Days before boy-men in white crisp shirts held her attention, and she would jump in the waves with her sister and not care about how her hair looked. Days when they would fall asleep in their car seats on the drive home, sand still between their toes, and have to be carried up to bed. Days when one (or both of them) would crawl into bed with us scared of the dark and lay horizontally preventing either of us from getting any sleep. Days when “Teen Nick” was just Nickelodeon and there was no eye rolling at the thought of putting their phone away. Days when they BOTH loved coloring in restaurants. I doubt Mike Seaver’s parents would have let him play on his phone in a restaurant.

Photo courtesy of A. Giordano

Simpler Days – Photo courtesy of A. Giordano

How old do I have to be again before I can date? she asks, bringing me back to reality.

Let’s talk about this again when you are in high school, I respond, hoping to drown out my husband’s “thirty” response.

What about me? asks 10, as she draws a picture of herself on the beach looking for shells.

Thirty my husband and I both say in unison.