This summer, all my kids are turning eight. Cooper in June, Claire in July, Huck at the end of August.
And while it might be sacrilege in some circles to equate dog birthdays with kid birthdays, my dogs WERE my kids until Claire, so I feel like I should get a pass. At least for a minute, okay? She’s growing more mature and vibrant while my sweet pups are finally starting to slow down. (Ten minutes after we snapped the picture above, though, all three of them were draggin’ their wagons on our hike.) Huck is starting to get more white on his muzzle, and Cooper hobbles around like a little old man when he first gets up from a nap. A three-mile run is getting to be too much for Huck, and a three-mile walk in the summer heat leaves Cooper panting the entire car ride home. Soon, we’ll have to ask the dog walker to ratchet down their exercise even more than he already has over the last eight months. It’s sad to think about, so I try not to.
Meanwhile, Claire is busy growing into something different, but not. She has been eight for two weeks, but sometimes when I look at her she might as well be 18. Joel was traveling this week so I didn’t see her for four days, and I swear she looks different than last time.
I hear people on the Internet like lists, so I thought I’d commemorate Claire’s 8th birthday with a list of observations:
- Eight has ushered in the age of secret-keeping. At some point in the middle of the last school year, Claire and her best friend started writing down secret things in an Ivy & Bean diary that we were NOT ALLOWED TO SEE. Claire carried it to school and back and wrote in it with a pencil. At a recent sleepover, she and the same friend closed the door to the TV room to do secret things, which turned out to be playing Minecraft. She has started cornering me and asking me questions about body functions – have you ever eaten so many beets that your poop was red? – and then tells Joel it’s “secret girl stuff” when he asks what we’re whispering about. She closes her door most of the time when she’s getting dressed. I am prepared any day now to learn about a secret boyfriend.
- I had forgotten that adult friendships and kid friendships are not that different. Which is to say: complicated. Claire has her very best friend who she will choose over all other people at any time. Sometimes, when those two are around other kids, you can see the outsiders sort of trailing along behind trying to figure out how to fit in. I’ve tried tried to talk to Claire about including everyone, but she doesn’t really see what’s happening since it’s not something she would ever do on purpose. We are presently trying to get to the bottom of what happened to Claire’s new friends in our neighborhood. For two weeks we never saw her. She would get to our house, dump her stuff, grab her scooter and off she’d go with E1 and E2. E1 even left her a gift on our front step one day with a note about how awesome Claire was and how happy she was that they were friends. Something happened over the next couple of weeks, and we haven’t seen E1 or E2 since. Claire hasn’t asked to go over to their houses, and they aren’t scootering/biking around the neighborhood. Apparently, E1 is sort of bossy (I told you!) and never wants to play what the other girls want. But what happened to E2? Claire doesn’t want to talk about it, and seems to be hiding in the house, declining to ride her scooter on her own. We only know the other girls’ parents in passing, so how do we find out? Yesterday Claire went across the street to a different neighbor’s house and ran through the sprinkler with their kids, a 9-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy. Those kids don’t seem to be allowed out of their yard without a parent in tow, but we’ll see what happens.
- Last year we took Claire and three friends to an amusement park for her birthday. The aforementioned bestie, the boy from next door, and a girl who I can only describe as “challenging.” It was a rough day, freezing and rainy in July, and the kids all wanted to sit by Claire, who only wanted to sit by her best friend. At one point the kids overruled Claire’s objection to a certain ride, so she bravely stepped up to the line with them and got on. It was a mistake. She HATED IT and came off in tears. (I don’t blame her at all, I hate those rides, too.) The boy next door took a bottle of water and dumped it over his head to make her smile, and in that moment he became my absolutely favorite. I just get to see him in snippets, but he has always been so sweet and careful around her, even when they’re calling each other dumb names and chasing each other around the house. They have sleepovers and play bows and arrows and he gave her a hug and a high five after her second circus performance. At her birthday party this year, it was once again the boy next door, the bestie and a third girl friend. This time, the poor boy got locked out of the bedroom, locked out of the tent, and often told he couldn’t do something because it was “girl stuff.” And, thus begins the era of boys having cooties – at least when other girls are around. I’m sure Claire will still love him when they’re all alone, but I felt really sad watching him stand outside her bedroom door waiting for them to come out and play. They have to make it through adolescence and then teenage hormones before they can just be whatever they’ll be in life. I’m rooting for that kid!
- Here comes the bullying! I don’t remember getting harassed at school until I got glasses in the 5th grade, but last year Claire and I had to have a chat about how it’s not nice to make fun of kids who have “funny” voices – “but he knows his voice is weird, we’re not being mean!” – and about a month ago I found her standing in the bathroom mirror, holding her bangs back and staring at her forehead. I asked if she wanted help pinning her hair back, and she said some kid told her she had a big forehead. She most certainly DID NOT want to pin her hair back, because her gigantic forehead would then be exposed. I assured her that her forehead was just fine, and assured her again and again over the following couple of weeks whenever I would catch her looking at it. It seems to have passed, but now I’m paranoid any time I find her looking in the mirror for longer than a second. Joel just wants to find that kid and punch him/her in the face.
- One of my favorite parts of Claire growing up is that I get to share some of my own favorite things with her. For instance, she has gotten hooked on So You Think You Can Dance, so I save the episodes until she comes over and we can watch together. We sit on the couch with popsicles or popcorn and worry about our favorites getting kicked off the show. (Claire loves Casey and Jessica, for the record.) I usually fast forward through the judges, but Claire has started demanding that we find out what Mary has to say. Last week she wished Mary was her grandmother! It’s so fun to hear her talking about the dances – “this is hip hop, right?” “will Mary like this ballroom?” The dancers are so acrobatic and flexible and strong, which I love for her to see. She’s starting to see the connection between dance and her circus training, which is also fun. We’re planning to see the SYTYCD tour when it comes through Minneapolis.
- While I am guilty of expanding her dance vocabulary, I don’t know where she’s getting all her other words. I’ve never thought about dumbing down my own vocabulary to talk to her, but until recently I had a lot of explaining to do. “What’s that mean?” All of a sudden she’s operating on the same level as the rest of us, pretty much, and every now and then she pulls out a word that astounds me. Recently we went on a cave tour and she already knew half the terms. She knows biological names of insects. She understands complex concepts. She may still get stumped on silent e’s when she’s reading, but her spoken vocabulary has grown leaps and bounds in six months.
- Speaking of words, color me officially freaked out by the lyrics in pop music. I know! Who is this person? I’ve actually changed the channel on Ed Sheeran twice in the last week. Claire may not understand the words she’s singing from the back seat, but I do. She doesn’t know who Mick Jagger is, nor does she understand his moves, but I’m not ready to have a conversation about why you need to rub Christina Aguilera the right way. At the age of nine, my best friend Chastity and I would dance around her bedroom singing “Like A Virgin” into hairbrushes. How weird was that for our moms? There’s no way I knew what a virgin was, right? Do we switch off the radio and back to Kidz Bop? I don’t know what to do!
- I don’t know anything about eight or any other age, but it seems like a strange transitionary phase. One day Claire is coming home with braided bracelets around her ankles that make her look like a 14-year-old surfer girl (kid is TAN) and the next day she’s conning her grandma into buying both the camper trailer and the stable for her American Girl dolls. One day she’s talking to me about the importance of getting cars off the road to preserve the environment, and the next second she’s asking me if I’d rather be a banana or a piece of spaghetti. In a pair of short eyelet shorts and a lace-backed tank top Claire looks like she should be going off to high school, not the 3rd grade. When I met Claire she was four and a half and well on her way to independence. She still had a little baby belly and baby cheeks, but she was eons beyond babyhood and nowhere near toddlerhood. She’s not a tween. What is this weird middle phase called?
Last night we were on the couch watching “the regular show,” as Claire has started calling SYTYCD, and she wrapped her arms around me and put her head on my shoulder and asked me why I have started calling her “my love.” “Is it because you love me?” she asked. The truth is, my mom sometimes calls me that, and just like “kiddo” I’ve picked up a lot of her momisms. “Yes,” I said, because that’s also true.
Half an hour later she was on the other end of the couch shoving popcorn in her face and asked if she could hold my hand. “I love you,” she said without looking at me. I squeezed her hand and fast forwarded through Tara Lipinksi, who we both agreed was a worthless guest judge. I’m not sure what age nine will bring for us, but I’m looking forward to finding out.