This is my kid who mid-dinner will make eye contact with me, put her hand over mine, and ask, "Mommy. How's the hearing going?"
She is genuinely concerned for others' happiness, and should I hear a beep or a whistle and Claire picks up on it, she'll nod with enthusiasm.
"Very GOOD hearing, Mommy! You're doing good!"
It fills my heart every time.
Having grown accustomed to her steadiness, I've been thrown for a loop with her sudden change in behavior.
As of Thursday, her joyful glow has dimmed, replacing her bright-eyed laugh with tears, anxiety, and worry. She is crying everywhere, each time offering a different explanation as to why she is so stressed.
She misses me. She misses her Dad. She misses her grandmother. She misses her friend from pre-K. School is too loud. A friend is grumpy. A friend was absent. Sometimes kids at school don't behave.
And there was that moment on Saturday, through crazy curls and streaming tears: "Mommy. I'm just EXHAUSTED. I'm. Burnt. Out!"
It's hard to watch my baby suffer with such angst. Considering the varied explanations, I'm lost as to what momentarily stole her sunshine. I've talked with her teachers, with her babysitter, with our family, and we all have our theories as to what is weighing so heavily on Claire's little shoulders. In the end, we each offer the same conclusion: It's just a phase.
And I believe that.
Still, I found myself in a text exchange with her teacher, offering this insight: "I feel for her always trying to be the good girl. She feels this tremendous responsibility not to let others down."
Before I pressed SEND, I paused.
I might as well have been talking about me-- always trying to make sure I'm not an inconvenience or a disappointment. I thought of how I put pressure on myself to make a strong first impression, work harder so others work easier, possibly overcompensating because I don't want my struggles to be spotlighted.
It's easy to feel lost when you're alone, and maybe Claire started to realize this. Yesterday, she offered an idea to remedy her worries:
When she gets sad, her big brother could comfort her.
Don't get me wrong-- I love my son, and he has many wonderful qualities. Displaying empathy, however, is not his strong suit. He's a cool nine year old, a jock, a BOY... you think he wants to kneel down and wipe the tears of his little sister, especially in front of the other kids at school?
Still, I believed in him, and saw Claire's proposal as a leadership opportunity.
Colin, help your sister. Be there for her. Comfort her. First and foremost, have her back.
This morning I dropped the kids off to school and as they walked toward the entrance, the signs were there. Claire's eyes grew watery; her shoulders began shaking.
I watched her reach out for her brother; he acted like her hand wasn't there. She tried again; he looked away. On Claire's third attempt, I watched as he reached down and grabbed her small kindergarten hand.
With his back to me, he couldn't see how proud I was.
Sometimes we need certain someones to have our backs. I don't have a big brother, but I have several fill-ins for the role. These men (and women) have become mentors in my life, allowing me to be my most vulnerable self and accepting me just the same. They encourage me to see challenges as opportunities, to "stay the course," to relish in adversity. It can be tough to put ourselves out there and admit confusion as to what to do next, but I've learned it's way tougher to get through those moments alone.
Claire will be fine. I will be fine. We are lucky to have the strength to reach out to others, to embrace their wisdom, and to learn from their journeys.
We'll pick ourselves up and move forward, stronger and brighter than before.