Zen and the Art of Childhood Maintenance

Tonight, Julianna and I had a “date night.”

My wife had arranged plans for her and Chloe to go hang out with one of Chloe’s friends and her mother so Julianna and I had our own thing. She picked the restaurant (which happened to be my favorite local Italian place) and off we went. We arrived, got our table, and proceeded to have one of the deepest, most thoughtful, and most interesting conversations we’ve ever had.

We talked about insecurities. We talked about looking in the mirror and loving what we see. We talked about anxiety and friendship. We talked about empathy and judgement. We talked about cakes of the lava and cheese varieties.

On this blog, I try and stay on the right side of Chloe and Julianna’s privacy. I ask myself, “if they read this in 10 years, will they be embarrassed?” As long as the answer is a reasonable “no,” then I keep it in. What I write on this blog, with the exception of this post, is always the real story with occasional omissions to protect their future stress levels. In the course of the conversation Julianna and I had, we both shared things with each other that we’re insecure about and for her privacy, I’m not going to share some of those things, just so you know.

The conversation started when we were talking about puberty and, in general, how everyone’s bodies change when they go through it. She is at the beginning stages of change and has given my wife and I lots of clues pointing at things she isn’t comfortable with. At dinner, we talked about a few of those things and I told her this:

“My hope is that one day, when you look in the mirror you see the beautiful person who I see.”

She told me that while that was a sweet thing for me to say, that because I am her father, I was required to say that.

I told her that I was not required to say it but even if I was, it would true anyway.

I tried to explain to her my philosophy on worrying and anxiety. There are certain things in life that we can control: how hard we work at math, what style our hair is, what kind of nutrition we put in our bodies, if we treat our friends with respect, etc. I then went on to explain that there are lots of things in life we can not control: how tall we are, when and how her boobs grow, when she gets her period, how our friends treat US, if the Patriots win, etc.

For me, I try not to sweat the stuff I have no control over. We both agreed that while it would be nice to go back in time and have the chance to correct past mistakes or try something again with the knowledge and confidence we’ve gained since, that isn’t possible. We could only move forward, control the things we can control, and do the best we can with the rest.

Our conversation brought us to a discussion about empathy which is something that Julianna has in Costco-sized proportions. Julianna brought up her relationship with Chloe and this is when things got pretty interesting.

We ordered our meals.

They, like most siblings and particularly those siblings who are as close in age as Julianna and Chloe are, have lots of ups and downs. I’ve mentioned on this blog multiple times that Julianna, emotionally, is much more like a dog in that she demonstrates unconditional love and wears her emotions on her sleeve. Chloe, emotionally like a cat, requires a lot of work and might rub up against your leg incessantly or shit on your pillow to spite you.

Julianna is very secure and confident in her friend-making skills. When she has had issues with friends who might not treat her well, she pivots effortlessly. She knows the value of good friendships and cultivates them. She is the go-to for her friends when they need advice. She’s reliable and emotionally available.

Chloe is not at all secure or confident in her friend-making skills. She’s the opposite. She has a lot of anxiety, which she can’t really articulate yet, about her friends. When Chloe has issues with her friends, it is a much bigger problem. She puts her eggs in a much smaller basket and hovers around that basket, trying to protect it because she is afraid of losing those friends. She has always been anxious about trying new things and meeting new people. I believe she is afraid to fail; that if she branches out, opens up, and makes herself emotionally available, it will not be reciprocated.

The main course arrived.

She does have a nice inner circle of friends. We regularly encourage her to focus on the positive relationships and we work on spending more time with more (and new) people. Just this week, for the first time in as long as I can remember, she actively sought out plans with a new friend after school who she hasn’t hung out with before. She and this friend walked home to the friend’s house after school. When she came home that night, it was clear that she had had a great day and was also proud of branching out. Baby steps.

For Chloe, the comfort of what she knows, even if the situation isn’t always ideal, has typically outweighed the risk associated with branching out and maybe failing.

I can relate. I was the same way and it is difficult to watch her struggle through it.

Julianna said, “if she would just open up and talk to me, I could help her. I’m really good at making friends.”

I said that I agreed but that perhaps we had to use that empathy, see the world through Chloe’s eyes, and try to figure out the kind of help that she NEEDS, not the kind of help that we WANT.

Chloe’s emotional availability is a problem for Julianna.

Julianna said, “I just wish she would tell me ‘I love you’ more often.”

I love you.

I told her about a philosophy class I took 25 years ago in college. The professor came in one day and posed a question to the class which I now posed to Julianna. I explained that there was no wrong answer and there was no right answer but that I found it interesting to discuss:

Do your parents love you?


“How do you know?”

She took a moment and then started to list things. We tell her every day. We provide a house, food, and activities. We gave her a sister. We help with homework and give her advice. We go on date nights and have interesting conversations.

I asked her what would happen if she asked all of her friends the same question? I asked if she thought they would all give the same answer as if I had asked what 2 + 2 equaled. She said no, they’d probably give different answers.

I asked her how it could be possible that one seemingly black or white question would likely get different answers that are all correct relative to the person answering?

We weren’t sure.

I asked her if she thought Chloe loved her, even if she doesn’t say it keeping in mind that Chloe might have a different way of expressing love than she did.

We talked about how while Julianna and I agree that hearing someone say “I love you,” might be a way that Julianna “feels” that love, it might not be the way Chloe does.

We talked about some of the other things that Chloe does that might be her way of expressing love. Maybe her love is on display when she sits down on the couch next to Julianna and gently cuddles or maybe the way Chloe gets nervous when Julianna isn’t on the bus with her on the way to school.

We all express our love and emotions differently.

“But why can’t she just say she loves me without me having to ask? It would be so easy.”

I said, “but why can’t you just go to the movies? It would be so easy.”


Who knows what the answer really is? I suggested to her that the next time she feels like she’s not getting the love in the way she’d like (even if its the way that seems so natural to her), maybe she pause for a moment and try to see Chloe’s perspective and understand that just because she doesn’t express herself in the same way, it doesn’t mean the love isn’t there because someone else’s love, like how tall we are, when and how her boobs grow, when she gets her period, how our friends treat us, and if the Patriots win, are all things WE can’t control.

Dessert time.

“But Dad, what is your answer?”

“To what?”

“How do you know if your parents love you?”

There are certainly things I know: 2 + 2 = 4.

There are other things I don’t know…

“All I can tell you is this: I won’t speak for other parents but I can tell you my one goal: you and your sister become happy people.”

“Your happiness, in life, will be how you know I love you.”

“Now leave me alone, I have a lava cake to eat.”