Reader's Digest, February 19, 2007

    Chip the Monkey
    A dad learns a little bit about growing up—and letting go— thanks to a
    chance encounter with a stuffed money.

    By Bruce Kluger

    A few months ago, I was in my daughters’ room,
    making their beds (don’t get me started), when I ran
    into an old friend: Chip the Monkey.

    Eighteen inches tall, dressed in Army fatigues and
    sporting a small beret and aviator specs, 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, had constructed
    him from hide and stuffing—as always, with her
    signature brand of precision and ample doses of

    The sight of Chip brought me up short. After all, he
    came into the world more than two years ago, and
    now looked somewhat out of place on Bridgette’s
    bed, perched against the wall just below the ceiling
    posters of Hillary Duff and Usher. By now, I had
    assumed, Bridgey had outgrown her stuffed

    To be sure, a veritable plush menagerie occupies the lower bunk bed, where
    Audrey sleeps. But that’s understandable—she’s seven.

    Bridgey, on the other hand, is my unrepentant tween—my sophisticated sixth
    grader for whom Saturday morning cartoons can’t hold a candle to the cutthroat
    couture of Project Runway; for whom no complicated computer program can’t be
    tackled with a few swift clicks of the mouse; for whom Dr. Seuss and Madeline long
    ago ceded their place on the book shelf to Lemony Sicket (all 13 volumes!) and
    Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord.

    Standing next to the bed, I froze, stared at the grinning simian, then surrendered a
    sigh. 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 grammar school kid? And, more
    important, 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

    Cleary’s observation made me think back to an earlier time in Bridgette’s life and
    take stock of the kind of traveling companion I’ve been to her as she’s made the
    journey from little girl to, well, bigger little girl.

    I remember the tears she spilled as she climbed down the subway stairs with her
    friend Bebe, and Bebe’s mom, on her way to her first sleepover. Bebe’s family lived
    in Brooklyn; and at five, Bridgey had never flown solo through the night, not even at
    a pal’s place in our own neighborhood, let alone in another borough.

    To be honest, I’d given Bridgette mixed signals when she first broached the idea of
    this long-distance sleepover. Meaning well, 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 her that Brooklyn
    was a little too far from Manhattan for a midnight bail-out.

    In other words, I did my best to change her mind.

    But Bridgey was blessed at birth with a steely determination. So as she trudged
    down those subway steps, looking over her shoulder with that sweet expression of
    conflict, I frantically tried to make up for my earlier selfish counsel.

    “You’ll have a great time!” I shouted with a fake smile. “And don’t stay up too late!”

    Bridgette wasn’t buying my counterfeit cheerfulness, I’m sure. She must have seen
    my eyes filling up, too.

    The next afternoon, Bridgette barreled into our apartment, raving about how much
    fun she’d had. This would be the first of many times that my oldest daughter would
    momentarily toss off the security blanket of childhood as she climbed, almost
    imperceptibly, one rung higher on the jungle gym of young adulthood.

    But now it was six years later, and I was staring that damn monkey in the face. For a
    guy who takes pride in keeping a close watch on his kids’ growth, I felt humbled, as
    if I’d suddenly lost track of who Bridgette actually was.

    Experts say this is natural—that most parents inevitably feel lost in the fog as their
    children enter the tween years. The backswing to stuffed animals and other
    trappings of babyhood, so they say, not only helps kids negotiate the road ahead
    of them, but also allows them moments of “safety” during those head-spinning
    moments of pre-adolescence.

    “If your daughter is feeling particularly young,” Cleary tells me, “she may cuddle up
    with Chip and express how much she loves him. But it she’s feeling teenage that
    day, she might push him aside, or even be embarrassed by him. It’s a minute-to-
    minute thing.”

    OK—so if all of this explains the presence of Chip on Bridgette’s bed, what I still
    didn’t understand was my feeling of melancholy. Shouldn’t I be thrilled watching my
    child grow?

    Cleary, herself a Mom, answers that question with a wistful smile of her own.

    “It’s fascinating,” she says. “As much as we’re committed to supporting our
    children's growth, we feel a nostalgia for the past, and we know we won’t get it back.
    We hold onto glimpses of their childhood, understanding that we’re on borrowed
    time. And yet we have to let them grow up. That’s what parenting is really all about.”

    Although Cleary’s words comforted me, I was still unsure. So in recent weeks, I’ve
    discovered a fool-proof way to reconcile the complicated push-pull of Bridgey’s pre-
    adolescence, especially during those heart-tugging moments when I imagine her
    hand one day slowly slipping from mine: I hang out with Audrey.

    Indeed, now that my “wild child” is in the second grade, she’s starting to exhibit
    restless feet herself, trying on Bridgette’s clothes, experimenting with sixth-grader
    slang, even lingering in the background during Bridgey’s playdates.

    But when she’s alone—out of Bridgette‘s eyeshot—she’ll confess a certain
    weakness for one of her old My Little Pony disks, or play dress-up, or get out the
    crayons. And she’s always a pushover for a storybook cuddle.

    Oh, yeah, and I also try not to look at Chip when I’m in the girls’ room. This would
    be a lot easier, of course, if my daughters made their own beds. But like I said,
    don't get me started on that.

    (This essay was originally published under the title "Watching Her Grow.")