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I Suddenly Realized I'm Raising a Smaller Version of Me

There's a story my mom told for years about my coming home from kindergarten one day, clearly upset, but not at all willing to talk about it. So she came up with a strategy to get me to share what was bothering me. We sat at dinner, and my mom asked everyone to share something good and something bad that had happened to them that day.

As my mother told it, you could almost see the tension rising in 5-year-old me until I couldn't hold it in anymore.

"I got on the bus this morning," I said, "and somebody called me a hot shot."

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My daughter has recently started school, and I'm noticing a similar introverted streak in her. She's not shy—like, at all—but she does keep a lot of things to herself. She is very present, but not as verbally communicative as her brother, who pretty much never stops telling you things and asking you questions.

I see a lot of me in my daughter, and I'm starting to understand what it's like to be on the receiving end of my own character.

Her first day of school, I asked her how it went, and she said she didn't want to talk about it. The second day, I asked her in the morning to please tell me just one thing about her day when she got home. She obliged. "I played with the dollhouse," she said. When I asked with whom, she said, "That's two things," and left the room.

"Mommy," our son and in-house parenting adviser whispered, "if you keep asking, she will never start talking about it."

Although you might not think so now, there was a time when I was rather quiet. Even now, I'm more likely to talk about something I've been through than something I'm going through. I like having time to reflect in my own head.

I see a lot of me in my daughter, and I'm starting to understand what it's like to be on the receiving end of my own character. I'm very chatty. I'm very social. But I also like to work out how I feel about things internally. I often don't share an issue with others until after I've figured out how I feel about it. And I think my daughter is the same.

She's quite able to handle things on her own, which is something that should be a relief but that also keeps you a little in the dark.

I found a printout in her backpack with a two-stanza rhyme about a cat playing with butterflies in the garden. We live in the Netherlands, so this was of course in Dutch. The teacher had written on it: "Frances will perform this next week at school. Please practice it with her."

I had no idea if it was a song or a poem, so I went to my main sources for such things: YouTube, my (Dutch) friend Suzanne and my (Dutch) babysitter. When I couldn't find it online and my go-to people for all things Dutch and unknown to me didn't recognize it either, I spent most of yesterday stressing, piling worry upon guilt upon failure: My daughter needs help. My daughter needs my help but didn't feel she could ask me. My daughter needs my help but didn't feel she could ask me because she knows I'm not from the Netherlands and probably feels like she can't rely on me to know anything.

It doesn't take much to get wound up sometimes.

When she came home after school, I showed her the paper and asked her about it. "Oh yeah!" she said, and immediately recited the two stanzas, perfectly and joyfully, and explained she'd be performing it at school. No sweat.

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She's quite able to handle things on her own, which is something that should be a relief but that also keeps you a little in the dark. She has her own character and way of managing things that is not at all about me: neither intended to keep me out or awaken my neuroses.

Some things just don't occur to her to tell us, but I want her to know we are interested. We've started employing my mom's strategy, each sharing a story from our day at the dinner table. But I'm not pushing her. Whatever is on her mind, she'll tell me. When she wants to.

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Photograph by: Tracy Brown Hamilton

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