Claire writing about her mom, DC widow Marjorie Brimley, being her hero

Claire’s Hero

At the start of fourth grade, Claire came home with an assignment to write about her hero. “I picked you!” she announced to me. She then spent much of the afternoon finding a photo that she liked of me and writing about why I was her hero.

It was really sweet and touching. My kid – the one who’s just on the cusp of being a tween – still thinks her mama is awesome, at least some of the time.

As she was working on it, I sat down next to her to see what she’d written. “My mom is a brave courageous person,” it said. “My mother inspires me because she is encouraging. My mother is also a big help to my family. This is why my mom is my hero.”

It made me smile, but it also made my heart heavy because I read between the lines.

Claire is proud of me, yes, but she is also worried about me. I know this not just because she wrote that I am a “big help” to the family. I also know this because I’ve seen her reaction to me in moments of stress.

Here’s one example. Many nights, there’s a bit of a fight between whether the boys or Claire will get the majority of my time at bedtime. The boys are younger, I tell her, so they get me first. This often means they get me for longer, and sometimes it even means I fall asleep in there and she never gets me at all.

As you can imagine, she does not like this.

So, I’ve tried to leave my boys before they fall asleep and take some time to read to Claire or just sit on her bed. Often when I do this, Tommy will come into Claire’s room to protest and I end up in a difficult situation. I try to negotiate what will happen next and everyone starts whining. Claire will then really protest (“you always spend more time with the boys!”) and I’ll feel stressed and say something like, “I’m doing the best I can!”

Almost every time I say those words, I watch her face change. Her frown softens, and she looks directly at me with a look of concern, rather than anger. In that moment, she ages many years.

When I see her face change and her voice say, “it’s okay, mama, you can go with Tommy,” I feel my heart break a little. It doesn’t break because she has to compromise with her brother. It breaks because I know she’s accommodating her brother not for his sake but for mine. She’s trying to ease my stress. She’s trying to take away my hurt.

It’s not just at bedtime that she acts this way. Whenever she sees me getting overwhelmed, she’ll start helping me with whatever I’m doing and say, “you are doing too much work. I can help.” This summer she often said, “I wish Grandpa Tom was here to help you.” She doesn’t say these things because she wants something from me. She just wants me not to get that look on my face, the one that says, “I can’t do this anymore.”

It worries me that my stress has been so apparent to her. It worries me that she sees my stress and then attempts to make it go away. Maybe that’s something that’s a good thing, in a way, because she has to think about someone other than herself. But all I can think about is how my stress becomes hers in those moments, and it’s something that is not easily wiped clean.

So maybe she shouldn’t be writing that I’m her hero.

But she did. She wrote, “My mom is a brave courageous person” and she’s going to share it with her class. Somehow, she sees all that stress and still thinks I’m doing something right.

“I’m doing the best I can,” I said to her again last night.

“I know,” she said. And then she hugged me.


  • Ellen

    I don’t think kids quite grasp what a real hero is. I asked Clark who his hero was yesterday and he said Superman. Claire understands that heroes are real people who persevere through challenges in some cases over and over again. She watches you do it everyday. Love you!

  • Henry

    I only know Claire through your blog, but I think you are raising a wonderfully empathetic daughter. Saying that you are a “brave courageous person” is not just sweet and touching; it is more profound. I don’t believe she thinks you are awesome just “some of the time” – when you are braving through things relatively successfully. I see something different “between the lines.” I suspect that it is when she sees you in moments of stress – doing the best that you can – that it becomes clearest to her just how brave, courageous, and helpful you are – because she knows you have hit some kind of limit but are still trying. That is when she is “inspired” (her word) to be brave, courageous, and helpful herself; to be empathetic, to “think about someone other than herself,” and to try to take away your hurt. To say that she ages many years in such moments is to say that these are not qualities found in most fourth graders. Yes, the whole situation breaks your heart, but her response is beautiful and heartwarming. I expect you understand all this, but I wanted to reinforce the perspective.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, Henry, this is beautiful. I especially love “because she knows you have hit some kind of limit but are still trying.” I really, really loved that line. Thank you so much for sharing. Can’t wait for you to meet her soon!

  • Carmelita

    I just want to remind you that kids do ok with rules and boundaries. When my girls were young , I just gave and gave. I wanted them to be secure and happy. I didn’t take care of me and I ended up exhausted and resentful ultimately, with an exhausted and neglected husband!
    So now I set boundaries and take care of me even with my daughter who is 27 and has multiple sclerosis.
    I know your situation has been very tough and the kids are young, but everyone likes structure and a rested mom! Maybe declare a Ladies Night where you girls are first! I’m sure your terrific boys will rise to the occasion. Good luck with this, I know it’s challenging.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks so much for the encouragement! I’m working on it. Making time and space for myself can be quite challenging. But I know it is important!

  • Kathleen

    Claire’s showing a profound empathy, which is nearly impossible to teach directly. Isn’t that the most important thing you want your children to learn? Don’t we need a LOT more of it in this world?! Honestly, I see this moment as A+++ parenting. Most children her age are self-centered, ESPECIALLY when it comes to adults. We hardly register to them. It’s really annoying–and worrisome, when you look around and realize that plenty of people never grow out of it. She’s a wonderful child, just like her wonderful mama.

    • Marjorie

      Oh, I love this – thank you! And yes, I think overall, it is good that Claire is turning out like she is. She isn’t perfect, but she’s showing a degree of maturity I think is really beautiful.