My daughter Josephine turned 10 this July, though based on her recent transformation, she might as well be 16.
Without warning, the markers of her identity—the colorful bows in her hair, the sparkly pink t-shirts—ended up in the Goodwill bin.
For years, Josephine was obsessed with JoJo Siwa, a ponytailed cherub who rose to fame on the reality show Dance Moms. Nickelodeon got its hooks into JoJo not long after, which resulted in a music career, acting gigs, and more merchandise than Kiss.
Seriously. Josephine got JoJo Siwa DENTAL FLOSSERS in her Christmas stocking.
But time marches on, and JoJo’s bouncy little kid routine got tired, especially now that she’s 20 years old.
Sans bedazzled role model, Josephine searched for something to fill the identity void.
She found it in an unlikely place—Hot Topic.
Last week at the mall, Jo wandered in with Melinda, fingering the studded belts and bondage pants with wonder and awe. Melinda vetoed a spiked dog collar and a Green Day necklace—do you even KNOW who Green Day is?—but gave the green light to a dangly earring set with chains that connected to cartilage cuffs.
The next day, Jo emerged from her room wearing a Vans t-shirt, torn gray jeans, and black lipstick.
When Melinda commented on her new look, Josephine sighed.
“Mom,” she said, “I’m emo now. I can’t hide it anymore.”
My initial instinct was to take umbrage with this transformation. You can’t just BECOME an emo—it takes years and years of self-deprecation, heartbreak, and trite lyrics in your away message.
But stepping outside of my parenting role for a moment made me realize Jo’s evolution is really no different than what I went through as a kid. I wanted to be cool like the punk kids but was deathly afraid of being a poser, which was the 1998 equivalent of being an R. Kelly fan. Plus, I had to work within my parents’ dress code boundaries, which labeled anything too fringe as “trashy.”
So rather than tease Josephine for her overnight identity change, I embraced it.
“If you really want to be an emo, you’ve got some work to do,” I said. I began curating a playlist for her, starting with more approachable second wave artists like Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday, then getting deeper with tracks from Texas Is The Reason and The Promise Ring. “You’re going to be the best fifth grade emo that school has ever seen,” I said.
After a few songs, I realized Jo was frowning behind her black lipstick. “Do you not like this?” I asked.
“Well, what music do you emos listen to nowadays?”
“Mostly Taylor Swift.”
Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. But hey, it’s better than JoJo Siwa.