Sunday, October 29, 2017

Checking In: Claire

So I did one of these on Landon a few months ago (apparently MANY months ago) and I meant to do one for each of the girls, but I generally write posts late at night while James and I are watching whatever show we're binging (currently Stranger Things 2, having just finished Ripperstreet and GLOW) and while I can do an update with the TV on, it's really hard to properly WRITE in that environment. To sit and really think, who is my child right now? How can I capture her? Who is she, past my own expectations and and our day to day routine?

But now it's a Saturday afternoon. Landon has a friend over outside, Claire is at another friend's, Cora is having some downtime watching Beauty and the Beast, and I am trying to shake off the fact I had two pints of beer with friends at a brewery tour this afternoon. College me must have had a very different metabolism because all I can think about is curling up in bed. I drink beer like 5 times a year and I drink before 5 p.m. about that often as well. Today was like some kind of epic holiday challenge and I'm failing, so what better time to ruminate on my girls while drinking a diet coke? I'm counting on the chemicals, caffeine, and artificial sweetener to overpower the hops and alcohol. That's science. Let's do this.

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Claire, 7 years, 4.5 months

Claire is my hardest to capture. Landon is so uniquely himself, and a boy, and looks EXACTLY like James, and I think of him as being so different than me (though he isn't, really) that it's easier for me to stand outside of him and look in. Claire on the other hand looks SO MUCH like me- my siblings and I all had blonde hair and blue eyes, but in my little family, it's just Claire carrying on that Swedish look. Superficially, she has so many aspects of my oldest child Type A personality that it's constantly shocking to realize she is NOT me, and in fact, is really just as far away from my core self as Landon. It is fun and fascinating and occasionally frustrating to be her mother, and I know that much of that frustration comes because I keep being surprised by her non-me-ness. I really try to parent without the burden of unnecessary expectations, so it is forever surprising to me how much I seem to inherently expect my oldest daughter to be like me in a way I don't with Landon. As always, I have something to work on.

Claire at 7 is still bright, colorful, and enthusiastic. She continues to adore school. She is going to be a teacher for Halloween and didn't consider anything else. She loves the routine of school, loves the desks and the order and the pencils and tasks. She loves when she remembers something in their daily schedule their teacher forgot and delights in the trappings of day to day elementary academia.

In this, she is precisely me.

She brought home a test early in the year with a 47 on the top. A 47!! "What is this?!" I asked her. "What?" she replied, "it's just a 4 and a 7." "But in that order! And out of 100!!" I exclaimed. "Oh, yeah," she shrugged, "I really wanted to go to the writing center next so I just wrote down answers."

In that, she is not.

I used to tiptoe so much around anything resembling criticism for her, remembering how sensitive I was to it and how I can literally repeat verbatim any criticism I ever received on anything. I take it well, it just then eats away at me inside for 20 years or so. But with Claire I've slowly learned that I need to be blunt. "A 47 is not acceptable. You need to take enough time to read all your questions and check all your answers, even if that means less time at writing center. Your grades are important, and you need to put in the effort to make them match your ability. Your are much, much smarter than this, Claire."

"Oh, okay mom!" she said brightly, and then proudly showed me her stack of 100's a week or two later. "I took my time mom," she told me matter-of-factly, "I did not rush to centers." And then she skipped off, probably to play school again.

On the one hand (the much, larger hand, with like 9 fingers on it), I love that she can roll with things. She shakes off criticism, complaints, and the occasional bit of frustrated yelling by her occasionally frustrated parents and just blinks at you, like wow, you seem upset? You should take deep breaths. This will serve her well in life and I'm glad of it. On the other, the hand with like 1 small finger, I'd like my words to have just a LITTLE MORE impact because zomg I'm trying not to crush your spirit child but I'm also not at all sure you're listening.

It is, as always, an education to parent a little human who is not yourself.

She is still so sweet and patient with Cora. They are so different, in big ways and little. Claire never cared a bit about princesses and Cora first discovered them when she found an old unopened princess barbie from one of Claire's long ago birthday parties. "What is this?" Cora breathed in awe, and it was like a piece of her heart was unlocked. Claire adores dressing up in stylish real clothes, with real necklaces, scarves, and great shoes (especially booties), but she has never worn a pretend dress or costume outside of Halloween night itself. Cora lives in dress up clothes. Claire needs to be around people. She will sit and read next to you, she will color at the table while you work, and she will tromp you at Memory by the hour, but she needs your nearness and interaction. Cora adores her family, but will also sit in the playroom by the hour putting together puzzles, organizing her princesses, or cooking dinner. She does not need you and she does not check in. If you ask to join her, she'll consider it and generally say no. Claire would have already requested your presence at her dining table.

She is a messy hoarding pack rat. Keeping her toys in the sets they came in is not only impossible for her, it is genuinely not the way she wants them to live. All toys, especially the beloved tiny ones, are spread out amongst various purses, bins, pockets, and drawers. It makes me CRAZY and I used to have big play room clean outs where I would reorganize all her belongings for her into nicely labeled bins. She would hug me and tell me it looked so beautiful and then immediately set about tucking things into tiny un-labeled places just where they wanted to be. I've given in. Stuff just has to be off the floor and it never bothers her in the least that when she wants to play school (the only game she really plays; dolls and other imaginative play never really being her thing), she can only ever find 33% of her set at a time.

"Don't you want to be able to find everything when you want it?" Landon and I will ask, genuinely curious/horrified. "It's okay, I'll just use these pieces," she'll reply contentedly.

Her sports remain soccer and swimming. James says she has a lot of natural talent for the latter but she's far more interested in chatting with her friends at the end of the lane than doing much with it for now. She continues to love soccer. She's focused on it about 85% of the time she's on the field, which seems pretty good for a 7-year-old. She's aggressive, just occasionally disinterested, but when she decides to care, is quite happy to take the ball from you and get in your face while doing it. Landon finds this very shocking as he gently kicks the ball back and forth to Cora on the sidelines. She wants to play again in the spring, so we may be in soccer for the long haul.

She's grown more inches than she's gained pounds in the last year, making her long and lanky and so very different from the chunky baby of what seems like only a few years ago. No more rounded cheeks or chunky thighs, her knees stick out the sides of her skinny (but strong!) legs and her arms are all wiry muscle and bone. She's as athletic as she wants to be- hanging with Landon and James on their long runs/bike rides, but also tapping out whenever she thinks a game of school sounds more fun. On our hikes, she's tough and rarely complains- unless she thinks her dad will scoop her up and carry her and then she is absolutely going to indulge in that.

By virtue of her own personality and the fact she is neither toddler nor tween (or having to parent either of the two), she is by FAR the most emotionally stable person in our house right now. She shrugs off most problems and embraces all that is good about her day. She'll eye a tantrumming Cora or a crying Landon like a science experiment that is happening before her, "why are they doing that mom?" she's asked before. An excellent question frequently without an answer. She is my food connoisseur, asking about the flavors and ingredients in our dinners and inhaling every bite with compliments to the chef. My BBQ Quinoa salad is by far her favorite meal (she requested it for her birthday), but she loves pretty much everything and wants to talk about it. She is a delight to bring anywhere- she has questions and comments and always notices something wonderful.

She delights in her friends. I have lamented that her circle isn't a bit bigger- Landon has a bigger group of nearby friends, but the girl component is a little smaller. She loves to tell me what her friends were wearing and what she loved about it, what they're doing and what they like. When she gets something new, she's always just as excited to tell me her friends' likely reactions "Oh mommy, so and so will love this." Like me, she needs people in her life and I hope a close group of friends will grow for her. She's ready to spread out from us a bit and I know it's right while also being a little sad. The weekends when it was enough for just the five of us to hang out for all 48 hours are long gone.

Not that you'd know it by looking over at my couch right now with all three kids snuggled under blankets watching some compromised show on Netflix.* Mornings are the best and Claire loves them. She is my only kid who will exit her room in her pj's- Landon always changes before we even know he's up and Cora is in a princess dress as soon as her eyes are open. But Claire will luxuriate in a little a.m. coziness and remains my only child who tries to climb in bed with me on a lazy weekend morning. She loves a snuggle. When I did my experiment of hugging my kids until they let go, Claire was the one who called my bluff. At some point, I had to move on or read a book or do SOMETHING and she was still happily embraced in our hug.

In the last 3 months she's found a love of reading that delights me to my toes. I'm trying to be cool and not overwhelm her with the boxed sets of Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder books that I purchased in the very week I found out I was having a girl. I want her to love them so much. Those books, all the books! Reading is a bit solitary for my extroverted snuggler, but her brain has crossed the threshold into making it easy- a down time activity instead of one that takes work, and I got some series for her (Happily Ever After and Ivy and Bean) that captured her in a way that she looked forward to reading every night and telling me proudly how many dozens more pages she'd read. I love it and am so proud of her progress. She's 12 books down and looking for more- I just scored two boxed sets of the original American Girl series on our neighborhood buy/sell page and I can't wait to give them to her for Christmas.

She has a very defined sense of style and always has. "Clothes" have been one of her top requests for gifts since she was 4 and her style gravitates towards clean lines with a bit of boho chic flavor. She's as excited as I am when I bring her home a new find from the store- a recent $1.50 purchase from the clearance rack at Gap made her whole day. I had to buy her shorts for camps this past summer when I realized she didn't own any and she's never voluntarily worn a t-shirt in her life. The very strong and very innate style preferences of each of my children will always delight me (and give me an excuse to buy Cora new clothes even though she should have plenty of Claire's hand-me-downs; their styles and personalities are so different and who can resist indulging in a tutu or 10?). Claire loves shoes like I do and loves mixing and matching styles, feigning ignorance every time I try to remind her that her floor-length delicate maxi dress doesn't really go with the black leather chunky booties she's paired with it. "I like it." she declares, and that works for me, as I follow behind her with a smile.

And that's Claire right now. Stylish and creative. Focused on what matters but always up and looking for something else to do. Half-finished craft projects litter her un-labeled bins. Enthusiastic and optimistic about the finished project shown on the box, she'll throw herself into a cross stitch or jewelry making project, only to abandon it 30 minutes later, the project remaining forever unfinished as the pieces to complete it are inevitably lost to her chaos. This does not bother her in the least- her joy is in those 30 minutes and the optimism of the first 30 seconds. Same with any spending money she gets. It's gone instantly, to something she probably already has at home but has fallen violently in love with while away. Once we return, it's tossed in the pile of loveys, sometimes lavished with love, but generally ignored. "I wish I had more money," she'll occasionally sigh with regret, but then add with an accepting shrug, "but I always just spend it."

She is a ball of sunshine and a giant hug wrapped in a tall, lean, blue-eyed, tangled hair package. I look at her and can't believe she was the chubby smiley baby who made us such a happy family of four 7 years ago. My daughter, with the name I'd adored since high school, who taught us that babies can be fun and easy and sleep for HOURS. It's been so fun watching her grow into herself and I can't wait to see what's in her future (besides maxi dress, snuggles, and disorganized bins of tiny precious items).

*It's morning now; I went from post-brewery-diet-coke writing to frantically throwing together a super tasty pasta salad to bring to a friend's pumpkin carving potluck and then Stranger Things with James while eating a 10 p.m. bonus bowl of vegetarian chili mac on the couch while shopping for snow shoes. Stolen pockets of writing time are never very big and must be cobbled together across days. I should really feed the kids breakfast but they're quiet and happy and James is swimming and this is more time I am stealing.


  1. So incredibly sweet. I have my first baby near me (she's 3 weeks old). This really hits home. What a fun ride we have ahead. Thanks for writing. I love reading what you write.

  2. Really nice to read and to learn more about Claire. I always thought she resembled your husband while Cora resembles you.

  3. She sounds a lot like my daughter, also an extrovert with creative moxie. The paragraph about spending money is something I'm really struggling with right now. My girl (9) just cannot hold onto her cash. And unfortunately she knows about Amazon Prime, and thinks that she can just up and buy her trinkets any time of day, any day of the week (which is true). She pays me back for these things but it drives me nuts, being a super frugal worrier.

  4. You have such a way of capturing your kids, that each time I read about one of them, I decide they're my favorite. :)

  5. I sort of want to be Claire when I grow up; confident without being cocky and feminine without being prissy!

    Have you heard of The Mother-Daughter Book Club series? It's recommended for grades 5-8, so she may be a bit young for them, but the books are fantastic. The concept is that 4 girls (who aren't necessarily friends) and their mothers (who are friends) form a club to spend more time together. The girls sort through the trials and tribulations of middle school and become friends. In each book, they read a classic (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, etc) that provides perspective to guide them through what they're going through in "real" life.

    Is she too old for Amelia Bedelia? I luuurrrved Amelia Bedelia.

  6. My daughter is closer to Cora's age but I much closer to Claire's personality I think. Especially the need for a lot of close personal contact! She has always had a major preference for adults though. She did so so great at daycare until she went to the twos room and the student to teacher ratio went way up. And it's been a struggle ever since then (it's been a few months). Did you go through that at all or was Claire equally happy hanging out with her friends her own age?

    Any way Claire is so cute and sounds like such a delight. It is great to see you enjoy her so much!