Owning 11

July 1, 2020 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

It’s some time early in the morning, the room is dark, and all I can hear is the ceiling fan slowly spinning. On weekend nights my bed is usually filled with you and your brother and two cats. Tonight it’s just the boy, me, and one cat because you have moved out of the room you shared with him for so long and have set up your own space in the basement. This new spot has become your sanctuary, a place of your own to find some peace and solitude and to sneak screen time on your phone.

This is the stage you are entering now: you are taking more ownership of your life, seeking and creating spaces for yourself.bigsmile

At eleven years old you are leaving the world of little girls and entering that weird middle kid age. The moment has arrived where your friends and favorite media sources have more influence on you than me. Instead of asking if we can do something together, you dictate to me the things you want me to get for you so you can do something on your own.

Typically my birthday essays to you are just a summary of what has happened the past year. This time there is so much to write about I am having trouble keeping it all organized. You have changed rapidly from the little girl who was always at my side to a lump under the blankets I can barely see from the glow of your phone. Between those versions of you are many days where we have grown and played and fought and talked and hugged.

A year ago you received a cell phone for your birthday and since then screen time management has become a challenge. I understand the draw of cell phones and social media because both are designed to capture and keep your continued attention. The primary reason I get on you about screen time isn’t just because of the content. It’s because I don’t want you to waste as much time in front of screens as I did when I was a kid. Back then all I had was a TV with 5 channels. And I had to walk to the TV to change the channel, in the snow, uphill both ways. With an endless and varied supply of media in your pocket, I worry that world will become more important to you than the real one.

I do revel sometimes in having some freedom to leave you alone but I also mourn the loss of being a provider for you. From my perspective it is harder to let go of ownership than it is to gain it. I have to learn to trust you as you bumble along and learn to do things on your own. Thanks to my inability to quietly leave you be, you have developed a version of saying “Dad!” which means “please let me do this myself”. I hear this voice when I am getting shoo-ed out of my own kitchen for meddling in your cookie-making.


While I may be getting more comfortable with leaving you at home for short periods of time, I am still completely unwilling to leave you and your brother alone. Your penchant for fighting with your brother about the smallest of things plus the increasing quality of your kitchen knife skills has me worried that at some point I will arrive home after a grocery run to find an ambulance in front of our house.

You have a growing feeling of independence and with that you are talking back a bit to me now. I am displeased by that, mostly because I hear my own voice and argument style being used against me. No one likes that but I am glad to know when you do come back at me you’re direct and honest and will sometimes make a valid point without being insulting. It’s the exact opposite technique you use with your brother. That love/hate war continues and your methods for causing him pain have become more covert. He hasn’t figured out how to sneakily cause havoc with you so he will blatantly bash you with his fist in frustration after you once again sneakily pinch him when I am not looking. He gets admonished while you try to side-step your way out of the room.

You finished fifth grade in the oddball way this pandemic has dictated. Unlike previous years, you struggled with the curriculum and generally didn’t have the same interest in the classroom. You had trouble seeing projects through to the end, trusting you understood the material and not bothering to show your work. Patience has never been your strong suit and now that you are so distracted by growing older, you will likely find it even harder to focus on middle school classwork.


Last summer we adopted two kittens and from the very start you have been a caring, doting kitten-mom. True to form you waged that relentless campaign to get my permission, then selected the kitten you wanted the night before adoption day. You were the first person in the door right as the adoption center opened and first into the room full of kittens. Immediately you found the one you wanted and it was love at first sight. Since then you rarely leave his side.

It has been a strange year of change, change you have enacted yourself and change that has been brought upon you. When I look ahead I see we need to have patience with and trust in each other. I need to be patient as you grow and step farther out into the world on your own. I need to trust that you will make good decisions. For your part you need to be patient with me as I learn how to let go of control. You also need to trust that what wisdom I have droned on at you over the years really does have value. Please understand this: every day I feel I have to work up that same courage I needed to let go of your bicycle and stop running beside you so you could learn to ride on your own.

What hasn’t changed about you is you have strong self-awareness, something I never had at your age. We talk about subjects that never occurred to me as a kid, spurred on by current events. You have a deep desire to do meaningful things in the world and your responses to my explanations of those events show your heart is in the right place. It is easy to know where you stand because you have always been a girl who knows what she wants and loudly proclaims it with relentless enthusiasm.

Today we celebrate you, my bright and shining daughter, for today you are eleven years old. Never will a father be luckier than I am to have a child in their life as wonderful, caring, and delightfully silly as you. Thank you for all of the joy you bring to my life.

Happy birthday to you, my Little Boo, my Darling Doodles, my Norah Grace.


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