How ‘The Parent Trap’ Made Age 11 Aspirational

The year is 1998. I’m a 6-year-old, cream-cheese-eating chubby girl who’s spent the winter watching camp promotional videos with my older sister. Each time I see a group of 10-year-olds stare off into the sunset and sway in time to some camp song, I cry uncontrollably; I want nothing more than to be of age to experience camp for myself. Needless to say, the second Hallie Parker tries to get her yellow duffle that was buried way in the duffle bag heap, I was mesmerized. She was about to live my dream — she was old enough to go to camp.

There were many things I learned from The Parent Trap at a ripe age of 6. Among the most important: Napa is a place where wine is made, Dennis Quaid is the best-looking dad I’ve ever seen, not all Merediths are created equal (my name is Meredith; Meredith Blake was the only other Meredith I’d ever known and she was evil), and the Concorde gets you there in half the time. But the most important thing? Age 11 is the apex of badassery and the beginning of the rest of your life.

Hear me out.

At age 11, Hallie elaborately booby-trapped Annie’s bunk. Annie moved Hallie’s camp furniture to the roof of her cabin. Hallie and Annie were both extremely confident in their respective poker games. Annie was fluent in French. And, crucially, Hallie and Annie both overcame their differences — “I have class, and you don’t!” — to get their parents back together in the name of true love! And brought down Meredith Blake in the process!

For me, age 11 became aspirational — it was a watershed between naivete and clarity. It was as if upon turning 11, one acquired a sense of complete understanding of how the world works. I was determined to experience this firsthand, but knew that I couldn’t rush the process. I would patiently wait until I was 11 to indulge in any seemingly adult pursuits thereafter.

If “what would Hallie and Annie do at age 11?” was a litmus test for what was considered a grown-up activity, I used my young age as a shield to push back on anything that I deemed scary, uncomfortable, or banal. In my family, this became known as “The 11 Excuse” — and I used it a lot.

Examples of “The 11 Excuse”:

My uncle at a family barbecue: Meredith, try a cheeseburger. 

Me at said barbecue, fisting Ruffles potato chips: I’ll try one when I’m 11.

I now keep kosher, but at the time I never ventured from my familiar territory of bagels and cream cheese. If the bouquet of a Merlot was a little too robust for Hallie at age 11, I felt it was fine to pass on the cheeseburger at age 6. I’d work my way up eventually.

My grandfather at our family lake house in New Hampshire: Meredith, give water skiing a try.

Me at said lake house, content to be hanging on for dear life on an inflatable tube: I’ll try it when I’m 11.

Hallie and Annie staged a romantic rendezvous on a boat to create the night their parents met. The only thing I’d do on a boat was sit in it when someone else drove — no way was I standing behind it while I hung onto a rope for dear life. But maybe when I turned 11, I would consider it.

My mom asking me to make my bed: Meredith, make your bed.

Me, sitting on my unmade bed, reading a book: I’ll do it when I’m 11.

(That one didn’t fly.)

Luckily for me, my coming of age story didn’t begin at 11. My parents sent me to sleepaway camp at age 9 (probably, in part, to liberate me from “The 11 Excuse” and whip some sense into me) and I was able to live my truth as a pudgy, Jewish Hallie Parker. While there was no fencing or poker, there was softball and tennis, and I was as good at those activities as the twins were at sabotaging The Marvas.

But my brazen confidence as a young girl came back to bite me in the butt when I turned 11. My uncle made me try that cheeseburger, my grandpa made me go water skiing, and by that point, not only did I make my bed, but it also needed to have hospital corners. I reluctantly was a girl of my word, but I was comforted by the fact that I could finally embrace these activities in solidarity with Hallie and Annie; eventually I’d be able to put a little lizard on my nemesis’ Evian bottle without getting in trouble. (A few months after turning 11,  I did actually put a water balloon under a camp counselor’s pillow as a joke, and I did, in fact, get in trouble.)

Parent Trap
The author at age 11

At 11, I got my period for the first time. I got a C- on a pillow person in my Family and Consumer Science class. I got my first “boyfriend” and a mutual friend communicated for us since we were both too shy to talk to each other (we “dated” for two weeks). The joke was on me: Adulthood could begin at 11, but it was a process rather than a static state.  

Twenty years later, as a 26-year-old grownup who’s legally partial to the softer California grape, 11 is still an aspirational age. It’s ripe with innocence and a perspective that anything is possible. I don’t use the “The 11 Excuse” anymore, but The Parent Trap is still my favorite film of all time because it taught me age is just a number, and grown-ups are really just big kids who want to be loved. If you’re Hallie, Annie, Chessy, Martin, Nick, Meredith, Elizabeth, or Grandfather, there’s always more growing to do, falling in love to do, and fun to be had. But there’s definitely still a chance you won’t like trout, even if you do try it when you’re 11.

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