Today Chloe turns 10. I know what you’re thinking: Another exciting look into the future! I thought about doing that for Chloe like I did for Julianna but Chloe deserves her own thing, not some derivative nonsense.
And so I’ve been thinking back to all that’s happened since her last birthday; all the moments of growth. I’ve been thinking through all the giant achievements and all the small steps.
There have been hurdles. There are always hurdles. We all have our things that we need to deal with. Chloe is the same as any other kid in that regard. Each year, each day, I find myself learning new things about being a parent. I work for a company now where there are lots of young parents. I see pictures of my co-workers’ kids and hear them tell stories about their kids that bring back all sorts of memories. Those memories all feel like just yesterday and at the same time feel like hundreds of years ago. Parenting has a weird way of warping time.
If you, the reader, know me, you probably know that I try to write in as close to my real voice as possible. The reason I started writing this blog was primarily so I had a place to memorialize the experiences I was having as a Dad while at the same time, secondarily, share some stories that are relatable to other parents. It’s always nice to know that in this ever-evolving game we’re playing, nobody is alone.
In August of last year, we moved. We moved to a neighborhood for the first time since Chloe and Julianna were babies which means it is the first time they have known what its like to be in a neighborhood. All of a sudden, we have other people living in close proximity and other kids. This move, and the social change it came with, is pretty representative of everything that has changed for Chloe this year.
In addition to now having other “social opportunities,” in the form of other kids who live accessibly nearby, we had a new school situation to deal with: Julianna had moved on to middle school which meant that Chloe was riding the bus and going to school without her big sister.
Chloe loves her routines. Changes to those routines generally creates anxiety. She is prone to heightened anxiety for a number of reasons in addition to, but typically related to, routine changes. She also likes to know, before she does anything, what to expect. Not knowing the “script” makes her nervous.
As her father, I see all sorts of pieces of myself in her. There are many pieces that I’m glad she got from me and there are some that, well, make me less glad.
Her anxiety about routine changes is definitely something she gets from me. In a sick plot twist and a self-fulfilling prophecy, I often feel anxious when I start thinking about how my anxiety and my general neurosis has rubbed off on her.
So here we are with kids in the neighborhood, many of whom Chloe knew from school (the move didn’t require a school change), but probably wouldn’t have been considered good friends. All of these kids knew each other and were comfortable with each other. Chloe takes her time easing in.
She was also nervous about the school part. She would say that while she and Julianna weren’t in the same grade and didn’t have classes together, it was always nice to know she was close by and “I’m just not used to not having her around.”
School started and pretty quickly she adjusted. She adjusted in a way that I don’t think I was prepared for. In previous years and with previous situations, it was a slow-boil and a long haul. This time was different. While the first few days getting on her new bus, along with a group of other kids was still a bit of a toe-dipper for her, she got comfortable quickly. It wasn’t long after that we started getting bits of information from school that she was turning into the kid that “everyone wanted to be friends with.”
This was also a new development. She’s always had friends at school but she has generally maintained a smaller group of close friends and “fought” for the attention of some of the kids she perceived to be her friends. Now, it seems, she’s the one, at least for some, that people want to be friends with. It feels like this has shone a big giant light, for her, on her self-confidence. She now has great friends in the neighborhood who regularly come over to play. They come looking for her.
This brought us to Halloween when something truly incredible happened. This was the first year when Chloe actually went trick-or-treating. Yup, you read that correctly. She’s been afraid of people in costumes (including at places like Disney) forever. As a result, no trick-or-treating. She loves candy. She also has always enjoyed getting a costume and we’ve always indulged her in the hopes that “one of these times” she’d want to go get the candy. What probably didn’t help is that each year, Julianna would also get candy for her.
Well, here we were, in this new neighborhood, a Halloween costume, and an invitation to the neighborhood “pregame.” We agreed we would all go to that and if she didn’t want to walk around after, no problem. When it was time to walk, she said she wanted to do it.
She was in a group with a few other kids from her grade (all in the neighborhood, not all girls – wink wink, nudge nudge), and successfully completed her first house. I was on edge, trying to give her some space but being close enough to swoop in if needed.
I’m casually “warning” all the other parents that we might be disappearing if she had an issue and wanted to go home. When we weren’t in a neighborhood, we would go to my sister’s neighborhood to trick-or-treat. Because we didn’t live there, it wasn’t unusual for the other kids who lived in that neighborhood to not see her. No pressure. Now, in this new neighborhood, I was feeling the performance pressure. I was nervous, for her, that if this didn’t go well, she would shutdown any sort of social interaction with the other kids in the neighborhood.
Second house. Success.
The third house happens to be not so far from ours and doesn’t have any young kids but does have some young adults. I’m waiting at the end of the driveway with another parent. As Chloe and her group approach the door, one of said young adults jumps out from behind a bush, dressed in some sort of scary costume to scare the kids. This was my greatest fear for that night.
Or so I thought. I get all tense while I wait for her to get back down the driveway, probably fighting off tears and certainly wanting to go home. When she gets close enough to see her face, I see that she’s smiling. We make eye contact, and just briefly she tells me with her eyes (which is something she and I do quite a bit), that everything is ok. She got closer and said, “Dad, did you see that? It wasn’t even that scary.”
So now what? I still don’t know if she’s just putting on a tough front for her neighborhood friends and we’re about to call it a night or she’s going to turn towards the next house and power on.
“I did see that. Which house are we going…”
Before I could finish my question, she, with her group, were on the move towards the next house, away from ours. She had done it.
2 hours later and with a bag filled with candy, we headed home. Victorious.
This whole year has been filled with these types of relatively small victories.
Earlier this week, we had our final “parent/teacher conference” in elementary school. Chloe’s teacher, who happened to be Julianna’s teacher last year and has been wonderful for both girls, told us, among other things, that Chloe was doing great and regularly demonstrated high empathy for her classmates.
Give me back my daughter.
And that sums up the challenge I’ve had writing this post: Chloe is a bit of a mystery in so many ways. She very introspective and keeps a lot to herself. She’s never been overly interested in sharing so its a bit difficult to figure her out. In contrast, Julianna is an open book so we have been conditioned, on that side of the house, to always have a good sense of what’s going on.
The biggest small step that she very well might have taken this year is starting to acknowledge that being private and introspective doesn’t mean she can’t share parts of herself with the world. This is what I realized I’ve been waiting for:
She has so much to offer to the world. We’ve been able to see it for years.
I suspect you might get to see it now too.
Happy Birthday Chloe,