That can be a pretty scary number for a parent. A full-on teen. Now it's staring me in the face, and I'm OK with it.

Lucky 13.

Having a freshly minted teenager does feel pretty lucky, surprisingly. My oldest is the whole package: intelligent, hardworking, exceptionally kind, artistic, beautiful, athletic and really, really good at math. All parents say this, but in my case it's the swear-to-God truth. These amazing traits all come from me, of course. Well, except for the math ability. Must be a rogue gene.

At one time - 13 years ago, to be exact - the thought of having a teenager in the house would have sent me straight to the computer to Google boarding schools. Teenagers! They're sullen! They're mean! They don't speak! (Is it bad that I was actually kinda rooting for that last one?)

Not so. But before all you parents of hormonal, perpetually grumpy teens start to hate me, allow me to offer some back story. Truth be told, I did, um, look into boarding schools when No. 1 was much, much younger. They don't actually take preschoolers, though.

The exceedingly polite, lovable daughter I have today started off as quite the pistol. Ah, the burden of being first.

Napping was not in her vocabulary. She learned to talk early - and sassily. Part of family legend: As a toddler, she yelled at her father, "Don't tell me how to live my life!" She was 2 1/2. His sin: gently suggesting that she might want to reconsider wearing a turtleneck sweater in the middle of summer since it was 120 degrees outside.

Terrible twos indeed. Then came the treacherous threes. I won't tell you what "f" adjective came in front of 4. Hint: It wasn't fabulous.

As mother and daughter, we were oil and water. Eye-rolling and back-talking were so rampant - at 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 - that I started clamping down with penalties, charging quarters for bad behaviors. She breezily told me she didn't care about money. In a brilliant parenting move, I switched to a punishment I knew she'd hate: 10 minutes of backrub for every indiscretion. It worked, and I got the kinks worked out of my neck.

Years ago, this mother, who had two much older children along with a kindergartner, told me that she loved each and every stage, that teenagedom wasn't bad at all. To answer your obvious question, no, she did not have alcohol on her breath.

Back then, I thought she was crazy. Now, I see what she means.

I love having these earnest conversations and helping No. 1 navigate life. I marvel at how she's starting to share my interests, like shopping, and that she never holds a grudge, even against someone who may have forgotten to pick her up at school on a few occasions. My oldest has blossomed into this incredibly sweet, caring person who worries too much and who's quick to hand-make a heartfelt card for a friend who's sad - or a grumpy, feeling-put-upon mom.

I have this card on my dresser that she made a year ago, proclaiming me amazing. It goes on to spell out why, at great length. The card wasn't even for Mother's Day. It was just because.

Now, I'm not delusional. I know there will be conflicts ahead. But so far, 13's good. Of course, it's only been one day.

Seriously, though, we'll be OK and mostly because our biggest potential source of conflict has already been avoided: She can't swipe my shoes. Her feet are already bigger than mine.

Contact Kristen Cook at kcook@azstarnet.com or 573-4194. The mother of three, Cook believes that parenting is the ultimate act of optimism. It also means you'll never again poop in peace.