For The Win

“Some day soon though, things will get back to the normal we all crave.”

Me. Exactly 1 year ago.

Today Chloe turns 12. It feels like just yesterday that I wrote last year’s birthday post.

How is that even possible?

Have you ever been to summer camp? As I reflect back on the past year, it all feels like a blur, sort of like summer camp, but without the whole “fun” part and the “meet my wife” part and the “I’m not going to shower for the 8th day in a row” part and the “no girls will come near me or talk to me” part and the “eat Mac and cheese or chicken nuggets or grilled cheese every day” part…well, maybe that last 3 parts apply to both.

I feel like so much has happened and so much has changed at the same time that I feel like I’m pretty sure nothing has happened and everything is exactly the same. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are either trapped in a room with no way out or running in a tunnel where you can see the exit but can’t get close to it?

This year has been like racing for the horizon. I know we’re moving forward but it hasn’t felt like we were getting any closer to the goal, even though my brain tells me we are:

  • My wife and I are 1 week away from getting our 2nd vaccine doses
  • Chloe and Julianna return to full in-person school soon
  • Friends and family around me are getting their vaccines
  • The Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins have people in the stands
  • Julianna became a teenager
  • And Chloe…

Chloe has grown, and I don’t just mean her height, which definitely happened. I’ve written before about some of the challenges she deals with, particularly around social anxiety and dealing with other humans in general; how she’s like a cat. At the beginning of all of this, had we known how long this phase of life was going to hold us, I might have predicted that she’d be totally fine because she has a “small world” that she lives in and doesn’t interact with lots of friends anyway but I would have been wrong. When this started, she was a 5th grader and now she’s wrapping up her 6th grade year. These are formidable years for a middle school girl when it comes to social interactions.

For this entire school year, the girls have been in 1/2 sized classes, with our school district’s hybrid learning model divided into 1 week of in-person learning and 1 week of remote learning. The smaller class sizes have afforded her (and Julianna) an opportunity to have fewer moving social targets and really cultivate some strong friendships. Because of the lack of non-class school activities (like lunch), some of the common social pitfalls that people their ages experience haven’t happened.

They have both told me that they aren’t looking forward to the return to full school because they’ve really enjoyed the smaller groups. I suspect they’ll get over that pretty quickly and will be thrilled when they no longer have to wear masks or have to see their teachers and friends in school through plexiglass. Has it all been perfect for Chloe? Certainly not. She has ups and downs like the rest of us. She still puts a lot of her social eggs in one basket and guards them with her life. But she’s starting to branch out…

Last week, she was deemed a “close contact” because of someone she interacts with at school during their allotted “mask break” time. Two days ago, on her “Day 5” she tested negative for COVID-19 making it so she could officially not quarantine as of yesterday. Last year, the girls were both upset that they couldn’t celebrate “traditional” birthdays given the circumstances. When Chloe found out she had to quarantine, she immediately got upset that she’d be stuck during her birthday again, even though she knew we weren’t having any sort of party. It was the notion of not even having a choice to be with friends that upset her. When she tested negative, and this isn’t the first time she’s been a close contact and had to be tested, she had a physical display of relief wash over her, even though her birthday plans weren’t really going to be different. In her world, she was free.

For a long while, Julianna has been spending lots of time at night doing group FaceTimes with some of her camp friends. They talk about lord knows what for hours on end. She mutes whenever I walk in the room for fear that I might (will) embarrass her. It has been a great pressure valve for Julianna during COVID to have this group of friends to spend virtual time with. Their spirit, it goes on and on and on. It has held them together and it has kept them strong.

Chloe has expressed to me, numerous times over the year, that she wants to stay up late like Julianna and gab about things with her friends but nobody else is up.

And then, a few weeks ago, we heard her on the phone laughing and gabbing. I knocked on her door (closing your door is apparently a thing once you turn “close to teenager”) and peeked in just to get the classic eye roll, followed by a quick “mute tap” and a hand wave shoo situation.

Before I exited, I mouthed, “who are you on the phone with?”

“My home room. Leave.”

What? Wait what? I tell myself I’ll figure out who that means later.

It turns out, it’s a few of the girls from her class…AND a few of the boys.

A minute ago she didn’t want to interact with anyone other than the 2 or 3 close friends. Now she’s on a group FaceTime with people from school just socializing? When this whole COVID nonsense started, she never wanted to close her bedroom door, never mind gab.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned here and there, the girls like to have sleepovers together. We try and regiment that so they don’t get too dependent on each other. Sometimes it works better than other times. Two nights ago, on a night that was scheduled to be in their own beds, I walk down the hall and I see Chloe walking with some of her stuff towards Julianna’s room. I ask what she’s doing.

“Dad, it’s my birthday week. I’m going into Julianna’s room. Take the ‘L’.”

She thinks she won and I lost, which is partially correct, but what she doesn’t know is what she actually won: confidence.

Like I said before, Chloe has grown this year and her confidence along with her.

Last night, because it’s her birthday week of course, she asked if she and Julianna could stay up late and watch Netflix together, in hopes of making it to midnight (which she admits is not likely she’ll be able to do). My wife and I said go for it.

Julianna stepped out of the room for a minute and Chloe said with a big smile on her face, “Can you believe I blasted out of Mommy’s vagina 12 years ago?”

“Yes. I can believe it.”

As I started to walk out of the room she said, “Thanks for being such a great dad,” and melted me a tiny bit.

For the win.

Happy Birthday Chloe,