We were hanging out on the couch the other day, Sunday afternoon, a warm breeze billowing the curtains like a sail. God I love summer. The lounge was our ocean, the couch our drifting Lilo. The blue Pacific has its uses but it doesn't have Netflix and besides it's outdoors, plus sand.
She hadn't bothered to change out of her two-piece pyjama outfit and was lying down with her feet over my knees. She was reading The Complication, book six in a series about teenagers who have their memories erased to prevent a suicide epidemic. I was reading Nineteen Eighty-Four. Her book sounded a lot more frightening and likely.
She lifted one of her legs into the air, and said, "Oh my God."
I said, "What?"
"What about it?"
"It's so long. Look."
We stared at her leg. It was true: the length of it really was remarkable, this smooth, pale limb shooting up like a fountain.
She studied it like it was an exhibit, which I guess it kind of was; the two of us were entranced passers-by, and I suppose we had the same general thought in the front or back of my minds.
I said, "I didn't know you were tall."
She said, "I'm not."
I knew that. The subject of height wasn't the general thought. I just sort of blurted it out to conceal or avoid what was on my mind.
The leg remained high in the air, like a flag. Well, I thought. Well.
Every parent of an 11-year-old knows these moments, recognises the way they appear out of nowhere, in broad daylight – it could be something about the way their child walks across the room, or the side of their face at a certain angle, anything made up out of nothing moments such as lying on the couch on a lazy summer's afternoon.
It's the moment when you realise that your child isn't exactly, any longer, not entirely, not scientifically, a child.
I felt in awe of her leg but I also felt affronted, caught out. It was as though the leg had crept up on me while my back was turned.
How did it get so long? When did that happen? Why wasn't I informed?
All of childhood is a disappearing act. But it's not as though it's taken away like a thief in the night, it's nothing swift or covert. It takes forever, slowly, like a set of Russian dolls in reverse – open the small doll, a bigger doll comes out.
You can measure the slow advance of days and years up against the wall with a pen and a ruler. They are the markings of an ancient civilisation. You can also measure it in books.
When she was little, we read her When I Was a Baby, a small book with thick pages like cards. Even then we were tapping into the nostalgia industry.
The book is told by a pre-school sprat looking back: "I wore a nappy and crawled everywhere." Yeah, real kids stuff, but now, woah, pretty corporate: "I can run and jump."
Opening chapter of The Complication: "I was standing at the bottom of the stairs, screaming. Men in white coats, handlers, stood on either side of me, gripping my forearms, trying to pull me out the door. Blood began to seep again from my wounds on my knuckles, and it dripped in an arc around my feet as I fought ... "
You always wonder and worry what goes on in their minds. What damage you have done, what harm, what irreversible habit that will scar their adult lives – a lot of what goes on in their minds is cheerful nonsense.
She sings to herself. She does cartwheels. She watches Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
She picks up a pencil and writes, sometimes; the house is filled with unfinished stories, loose ends. Sample, from a loose page of A4: "Keith Buckbum was Rodney Stodgenpop's childhood friend, who escaped from the Chicago Mental Hospital and found shelter in Rod's humble apartment in small-town God's Corner in Kentucky. Keith often ruined Rod's sleep by running around yelling 'Cracked laundry!' at 5am. Rodney was an optimist though and saw Keith as his personalised alarm clock."
She put down her leg and I put down my book, and I asked, "Hungry?"
She said, "Yes. Can you get me something fresh? An apple?"
I padded off to the kitchen. One of the chief joys of parenting an 11-year-old is preparing snacks, especially after-school snacks. Her mum makes the lunches, and during the week it will be her dinners that possess that elusive quality known as taste; I do breakfast, which is really just manning the toaster, but regard the after-school snack as the most important meal of the day.
All kids need food the second they step in the door after walking home from school. They have left the wild, random world, packed with gossip, likes, dislikes, trigonometry, financial literacy ("It's sort of like finding GST in percentages"), and returned to the familiar world of home; it's as though they have set foot on land after years at sea.
They need the ground under their feet. They need coal, oil, petrol, all the fossil fuels.
I'll whip down the shops while she's at school and get things like sushi, fruit, berries, carrots, celery, chocolate, a gingerbread man, a sherbet dip, chicken nuggets, all the pleasures, and make a dainty dish with a glass of ice-cold water.
I'll put it on the dining table and lay a tea towel over it and wait excitedly for her to get home, come up the stairs, take off her schoolbag, and whip the tea towel off to see the latest little feast.
She looks at the food and I look at her. The school day is long. It's so great to see her again, this visitor returned from a foreign land. Who knows what goes on in those dense, distant jungles, what cruelties and harsh words, what crushes and longings?
I hear a little bit about it – the hierarchies and governments, as ruled by the godlike creatures of Year 8. "Year 7s," said one Year 8 tyrant, "are trash."
"I wish all you Year 7s," said another Year 8 girl, surely destined for a great career in the military, "would fall into a hole and die."
Fantastic savages, neither children or teenagers, poised in between. I daresay all this sort of thing is covered off by that awful, medical word, puberty.
But there's another word for it, a better word, less explicit, that describes an 11-year-old and that unique time in their lives when they begin to change, grow, depart childhood: intermediate.
I never gave any thought to why it was actually called intermediate school until her first day this year. All the parents of Year 7 kids were invited on to the school grounds and watch them being sorted into classes, and marched off to their rooms.
It was quite a sight. All these little kids, strapped and buttoned into uniforms, looking like minor officials in a government department – come to think of it, that's the definition of state school Year 7s. The Year 8s are the senior officials. They run the place. Teachers and staff fit in somewhere I suppose.
It was fascinating to watch the Year 7 boys and girls sitting cross-legged on the parade ground. It was like observing a science experiment, a test conducted in a lab.
They enter intermediate as tweens; two years later, they leave, most of them, as teens.
For two years, they're like a protected series, in exile – intermediate school is a kind of quarantine station.
"You have so much to learn," one of her friends likes to tell her, from some great height. I don't think she's referring to algebra or geography.
Our daughter is among the youngest in her year, a February baby, and I guess that might make her just a little bit less worldly than her peers but there's a certain determination to remain a little kid.
She's the last one in her class who believes in Santa. The last one who claims she believes, anyway.
There's no hurry to grow up. No rush. The hours and days go by slowly, happily, on the ocean cruise of our lounge. She reads The Complications by Suzanne Young. I read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.
Orwell's hero Winston Smith makes his momentous decision to write a diary: "In small clumsy letters he wrote April 4th, 1984. He sat back. A sense of complete helplessness had descended upon him. To begin with he did not know with any certainty that this was 1984 ... It was never possible nowadays to pin down any date within a year or two."
We love her to pieces and hang on to every single beautiful piece. At her age, every second counts, each tick of the clock bringing her closer to leaving childhood. Dates are everything.
The calendar marches on, drives forward like an engine. She has her mum's beauty and grace, her kindness and her legs.
She puts down her book. "Want to see my cartwheels?"
"Yes. Yes, I do."
And she leaps up and cartwheels across the ocean floor, her long legs like the hands of a clock being wound backwards and forwards.