I scanned Brooke’s home-school communication log before sitting down to dinner. Every night, I search the day’s entry for an interesting morsel that I can use to ask her about her day. If there’s been an event of some kind – something outside of her typical schedule – it’s all the better to try to start a conversation.
I honed in on Ms K’s description of the All-School Assembly, excited by the possibility of something that Brooke would remember and hopefully be able to talk about.
“First 1/2 (15 mins) listened and applauded appropriately. Talked about ‘New Year’s Resolutions”. Got a little long – we took a short break + returned + then left at end before masses – then joined class again in hall. Good work self-calm.”
I should have known, of course. We’ve been at this long enough, haven’t we? And the words were right there.
Good work self-calm.
That’s code for needed to self-calm after something happened to make self not remotely calm.
But I was reading too fast to let it register. All I saw was what I was supposed to see.
“Hey, Brooke,” I asked, “Did you have All-school Meeting today?”
She was staring down at a thread between her fingers.
“Brooke, sweetie, did you have an All-School Meeting today?”
‘I did,” she answered.
“Did you take a break with Ms K?”
“Did you leave a little early?”
My next question was to have been about the performers at the meeting – the part of the conversation that I hoped might yield a little more than a two-word response from Brooke – but I never got to ask it.
Instead, Katie jumped in. Her tone was casual as she added, “Yeah, Ms K had to take her out cause she was yelling and crying.”
I tried to keep my face neutral as I turned back to Brooke.
“Sweetheart, did you have some trouble at the meeting?”
She twisted the loose thread in her fingers.
“Sweetheart is my nickname.”
“Yes, love, it is. So was the meeting a little too loud today?”
She winced at the memory and pulled her shoulder to her ear.
I decided not to push it further. I excused myself from the table and went back to the counter to look at the communication log.
It was right there in black and white.
Good job self-calm.
I walked back to the table with the words still taunting me. C’mon, kid. You’ve been at this long enough. You know the code. You know how to read between the sanitized lines – to find the parcels of unvarnished reality prettily wrapped inside encouraging phrases and glowing praise.
As I sat down, I told Brooke that I had heard that she’d done a great job calming herself down and joining the class after the assembly. I told her that I was very proud of her for that and that I knew that those meetings were not easy for her.
Katie munched her dinner without giving any of it a second thought.
Brooke withdrew into a litany of Godspell questions – “What did Mary Magdalene say in the junkyard? What would happen if Jesus and his Mom cut onions? Is there a Jesus and Matthew movie?” – as Katie launched headlong into a monologue about her day. I alternated answering Brooke’s questions - “Let me outa here!” “They would cry” and “No, there is no Jesus and Matthew movie”- and commenting on Katie’s colorful retelling of her day.
Luau caught my eye. He smiled and offered up a nearly imperceptible shrug as he said, “It’s OK.”
I let out the breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I reached out for both of my girls. I kissed the top of Brooke’ s head and cupped my hand over Katie’s. Both of them continued to chatter on her own plane. I sat back in my chair and watched my family settle into its natural state.
I took a deep breath – breathing in our normal. I gave a tired smile back to my husband and did my best to self-calm.