Brooke and I stood in the upstairs guest room among the assorted detritus of babyhood. We sifted through long since cast aside quilted books and soft, worn rattles in a desperate search for a long-lost Elmo doll.
Brooke picked up a flimsy nylon tutu that had fallen out of a box and stepped into it. Amid all of the souvenirs of years past up there – the first toys, the early books of colors and shapes, the gifts from friends and family – I never would have given the tutu a second thought. In and of itself it had no significance to me. It likely would have been one of the first candidates for a trip to Goodwill.
Brooke spun around in the tutu and said, “I cried and I cried and I cried.”
I looked up from the bin through which I was digging. “What’s that, honey?”
“I cried and I cried and I cried,” she said again.
I must have looked confused, but she wasn’t looking at me. Even if she had been, she wouldn’t have picked up on the nuance of my expression.
“I wanted my ballet slippers,” she said, still spinning, “and I cried and I cried and I cried.”
ed note .. please follow the link above before reading on. It’s important. Please? I’m asking nicely. Click on it. Read it. The rest of the story is meaningless without it.
I stopped in my tracks. There are so many moments with my little girl that literally take my breath away that I know I must lose credibility when I use the phrase. But, for the millionth time in our life together, she did indeed take my breath away.
“Honey,” I heard myself say before I could stop to think about the words, “I am so, so sorry that I yelled at you that day. I just didn’t understand.”
She kept spinning.
“I cried and I cried and I cried,” she said. “And then I had the white water and it made my tummy feel better.”
White water? I scanned my memory, but came up dry. Mine is obviously no match for hers. If she says there was white water, there must have been white water.
“Milk, honey?” I asked. “Did you have milk that day?”
“I had the white water and it made my tummy feel better.”
She picked up a Zoe book from a nearby bin and began to read the single words on its pages. The conversation was over.
I took a deep breath and resumed the search for Elmo, digging through bin after bin of stuffed animals. Brooke suddenly hit the floor. She was crouched into a defensive ball, covering her ears with her arms and clasping her hands behind her head. She yelled into her knees, “NO COOKIE MONSTER!”
I looked down at my hands. I had picked up the leg of ‘Blueberry the blue bear’ to see if Elmo might be hanging out below him. Apparently the blue leg had looked to her like it belonged to a certain cookie loving ball of terror. The last time she had seen Cookie Monster had been in this room. Three years ago. I assured her there was no Cookie Monster. We went through it all again - Cookie Monster doesn’t live here anymore. He’s all gone. You’re O.K.
When children have traumatic experiences, parents often make each other feel better by assuring one another that it’s harder on us than it is on them. We tell each other that they’ll never even remember it as they get older. Over the years, I’ve tried to find solace in those platitudes, but something down deep just wouldn’t let me believe in them when it came to Brooke. The little voice has always told me that it’s not that she won’t remember, it’s that she’ll never forget.
Giving up on finding Elmo upstairs, we made our way back down to Brooke’s room. I brought the Zoe book downstairs with us and at the last second I grabbed the tutu and brought it down too. As much as I may have wanted to leave it behind, bringing it along felt like the right thing to do. When we got into Brooke’s room, I held it out to her and asked if she wanted to put it on.
I sat on her floor and watched her get into it. I stayed put as she went into her closet to find some sparkly princess shoes. Shoes on, she turned to me. “What is this?” she asked, holding the tutu between her fingers.
“That’s a tutu, honey,” I said. “You had it when you were little.”
She walked over and stood directly in front of me. I looked up at her from my spot on the floor.
“And you’re sorry that you yelled at me.”
“Yes, baby,” I answered. “I am so sorry that I yelled at you.”
I didn’t try to hide the tears that streamed down my face. Maybe I thought somehow they would help her to understand just how sorry I really am.
She looked right at me. I still get taken aback when I see her full face that way – dead on. Her eyes searched my face, trying to make sense of what was happening.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m crying, honey,” I answered.
“What did you hurt?”
“Well,” I began, “I didn’t really hurt anything, baby. I’m feeling a little sad.”
“Did you hurt your heart?” she asked.
I said that to her once when Katie was crying after her fish died. Brooke had been determined to know what she had hurt. She wouldn’t let it go. If she was crying, she must have hurt something. Did she hurt her arm? Did she hurt her eye? Did she hurt her tushy? Did she hurt her head? There was no end in sight and Katie needed my attention. I had finally come up with “Well, honey, she hurt her heart.”
And there it was right back at me. I must have hurt my heart.
“You know, honey,” I said, “In a way I guess I did hurt my heart. I’m sad because I’m so sorry about the day that you couldn’t find your ballet shoes.”
She began to walk away. She circled the room slowly. I sat and waited. Suddenly, with no warning she pounced into my lap. She curled her little body into me and threw her arms around my neck. I hugged her back as hard as I could. Just as quickly as she had pounced, she got up and left the room.
I’ve always wondered if someday Broke and I will sit down together and read through the posts that I’ve written about all of these moments in her childhood (and my motherhood). So many times I’ve hoped that she will someday fill in the missing narrative – HERS. At times I’ve also been terrified that she will do just that, not sure that I can handle it. But overwhelmingly, I pray that day comes. And more and more, I think it will.
Because it seems that the little voice – the voice that says, She’s taking it all in. She’s engaging her environment even when we think she’s not. She’s remembering. She’s watching. She knows. She sees. That voice is right. And so too I think it’s right when it says, She’ll never forget.
She’ll know it wasn’t easy. She’ll know her Mama made mistakes. She’ll know I couldn’t always protect her, no matter how much I may have wanted to. But I hope and I pray that when she looks back over it all she’ll know more than anything that I tried. That I did everything I could think to do to understand her, to help her, and – above all – to love her. And that she will know deep down that for those times that I stumbled – when try as I might I just didn’t get it – that I am so, so sorry.