Watching Her Grow

A few months ago, I was in my daughters’ room, making their beds (don’t get me started), when I ran into Chip the Monkey. Eighteen inches tall, dressed in Army fatigues and sporting a small beret, Chip is the product of a Saturday afternoon trip to the Build-A-Bear store in midtown Manhattan, where my then nine-year-old daughter, Bridgette, constructed him from hide and stuffing — plus ample doses of love.<

The sight brought me up short. Now more than two years old, Chip looked out of place beneath the ceiling posters of Hilary Duff and Usher. I’d assumed Bridgette had outgrown her stuffed animals.

To be sure, a plush menagerie still occupies the lower bunk bed, where my younger daughter, Audrey, sleeps. But that’s understandable. She’s seven.

Bridgey, on the other hand, is my unrepentant tween, my sophisticated sixth grader. Standing there, I surrendered a wistful smile. I also felt a knot in my stomach. How did a throwback like Chip figure into the ever-changing life of my older-than-her-years daughter? And more to the point, why did the sight of him make me feel like crying?

“Like toddlerhood, pre-adolescence is a constant dance of backward and forward motion,” says Sherry Cleary, executive director of the Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York. “As children develop new components to their identity, they take inventory of the identity they had before. It’s as if they always need to check in with who they were as they become who they are.”

I thought back to an earlier time in Bridgette’s life and reflected on the kind of traveling companion I’d been to her as she journeyed from little girl to, well, bigger little girl. I remembered how she cried on the way to her first sleepover. Her friend Bebe lived in Brooklyn, and at five, Bridgey had never flown solo through the night, not even in our own neighborhood. To be honest, I’d given Bridgette mixed signals when she first broached the idea of a long-distance sleepover. I reminded her that Bebe’s family had a dog — and that she wasn’t crazy about dogs. I told her that it’s sometimes scary to wake up in the middle of the night in a strange place. I cautioned that Brooklyn was a little too far from Manhattan for a midnight bail-out.

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