Today Chloe turns 14.
Yesterday, she was walking towards me in the kitchen and on her approach said, “hug it out dad.”
I got so excited because if you know her, you know, hugging isn’t really her thing.
I looked around to make sure there were witnesses and spread my arms wide. The world slowed down. It felt like minutes as she got even closer, her arms now extended. Was this really going to happen?
Actually, before I tell you how it ended…
I was recently talking with both girls about how this set of birthdays, both Chloe’s and recently Julianna’s seemed like a bigger deal. Last year at this time, I had 14 and 13 year old daughters. Today I have 15 and 14 year old daughters. Technically both teenagers last year, now it feels more real.
In just a few short months both of them will be in high school; together again.
In under a year from now, Julianna will start learning how to drive (not great prospects based on our experience with Mario Kart).
Maybe the combination of them turning 15 and 14 and me turning 45 last summer are getting blended into one big realization that “old” is happening. I haven’t gone out and purchased a Porsche yet but there’s always tomorrow for that…
A few weeks ago I wrote about Julianna’s most recent year and how she’s grown in so many ways, largely in independence. Now, I’m here to write about Chloe’s most recent year and her growth. I can sum it up in one word for her: confidence.
She is no less stubborn than she’s always been. She is no less resolved about the things she “knows” and the things she wants. She’s just more confident in the way she approaches getting the things done that she wants to get done. She’s more confident in the way she speaks to people. She’s more confident, albeit not quite there yet, in her willingness to dip her toe outside of her comfort zone.
Every 4 years or so, she and Julianna spend 1 year in different schools. I’ve always thought it was a great opportunity for both of them to develop on their own without the safety net of having their sister around during the day. This year, Chloe has had her challenges and her triumphs and has been able to travel through them all on her own. These journeys have all been confidence boosters for her.
In the winter, Chloe, who has never really wanted to play competitive sports, decided she would try out for (and ultimately made) the girls volleyball team at her middle school. She was neither the most or least skilled on the team but went to practice, got better, competed, hit the ball into the net and with increasing frequency as the season went on, over the net. She got to be part of a team and whether she’s willing to admit it or not, I think she really enjoyed the sisterhood of that experience and the effort and value associated with being part of a team.
She followed that up by volunteering to be one of the “team managers” for the girls basketball team at school. This was a different kind of opportunity for her. She went to practices, was the scorekeeper during games, helped to coordinate team sweatshirts, got excited about wins, and upset about losses. Again, while not to the same extent as volleyball, she was part of a team.
In school itself, she has done really well in most of her classes. While not willing to admit it often, seems to really enjoy school. In one subject, math, where she normally excels, she’s had periods of time where she has really struggled this year. That struggle has been daunting for her. She’s not used to anything other than just “getting it” when it comes to math. She did poorly on a few quizzes and tests and was feeling pretty low about the whole thing until we were able to figure out what was really going on: the style of this particular teacher (who is great) hasn’t really meshed with her style of learning. He was asking people if they needed help and because she felt embarrassed to speak up and ask for help, she would say no in class. The teacher, not knowing, would move on. She would then decide that it was too late to go back and ask for help after turning down the opportunity and the cycle would continue.
When we figured out this pattern, I had a conference with the teacher and told him that she actually did need help but was nervous about not wanting to seem like she “needed” help. I explained to him that this was about her confidence, or lack thereof in this case. Since then, he’s been more proactive about finding ways to connect with her in ways that give her the chance to get the help she needs and build her confidence. We also got her a math tutor who she meets with weekly so she can feel prepared for class. Now, each time she takes a quiz, a few days later I get an email from her midday, like this one she sent me last week:
DAD I GOT A B+ 88 ON MY QUIZ OMG
She then gets home and asks me to txt her tutor to tell him. She’s proud of herself. Every time she does this her confidence meter goes up just a little bit. This is the first time she’s really had to work hard in school to keep up with a subject. I told her teacher that I was glad she was struggling, a bit. I think the resilience she’ll get from having to work through a challenging time in school will only make her a stronger and more confident student and person. I think, for the first time, she’s learning that sometimes you have to work for things and when you do, not only will you improve but you’ll feel good about doing it.
And then there’s her social life.
She’s not quite Julianna in terms of quantity of friends or friend groups but this is the first year where I feel like she’s developed a few really solid groups of friends (home and camp), regularly hangs out and checks in with them, and mostly rises above any drama. She hasn’t been getting defensive when subsets of them hang out without her. She doesn’t seem to mind when there are plans that don’t involve her. A few months ago one of her friends had a large group of girls over her house for a party. Chloe wasn’t invited but the other girls had been talking about it in school all day (some, I believe, to make sure she knew she wasn’t included – because sometimes, kids these age can be…not nice). She got home from school that night, told us the party was happening, and invited a different friend from a different group over to hang out. Normally, that would be a night to sit in bed sulking about not being included but not this time. This time it was water over her feathers. Why? Confidence.
She’s not nearly fully finished and like the rest of us, probably won’t ever be. She still has quite a bit of work to do in terms of stubbornness and continuing to be more open minded and flexible when things don’t go exactly her way but her progress this year has been profound. She continues to be hilarious, witty, charming when she wants something, and actually does a pretty good job of keeping herself clean. She takes pride in being a good friend. She secretly loves being a good sister. She rolls her eyes at me like a champion.
“Hug it out dad.”
She’s hugged me before but it’s rare that she’s the initiator. This is my moment to shine. My arms are out. Her arms are out.
She is approaching.
The world is still moving so slowly. It feels like I wrote a whole blog post waiting for this to happen. She’s right in front of me now with a big warm smile on her face. I am ready for my hug.
She pivoted at the last second and said, “psych!”
There’s my girl. I’m glad she’s changed and grown, but not too much and not too soon.
Happy Birthday Chloe.