Forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life.
~ George MacDonald
Sometime in early 2006
(The following is an excerpt from a post called Getting There is Love. Its story takes place before we knew anything about Brooke’s challenges. To read the post in its entirety, click -> HERE.)
Brooke must have been three years old. She wanted her ballet slippers. I don’t know why, perhaps she was playing dress up, perhaps the moon was in the seventh house. Whatever the reason, she had it in her little head that she needed her ballet slippers..I looked around the house but I couldn’t find them. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I flippantly told her that the slippers were a no go. I knew so little. She began to perseverate on one sentence. “I want my ballet slippers!” Over and over and over and over again. “I want my ballet slippers!” It would almost have been funny. But it wasn’t. It got louder. She got more anxious. “I want my ballet slippers!”.I explained that I couldn’t find the slippers. I’m sure I offered an alternative. She fell apart. Sobbing, shaking, yelling – you know the rest. All the while, stuck in automatic rewind. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”.I wasn’t going to stand for a tantrum. Oh hell no, not this mom. I don’t ‘do’ tantrums. Not in this house, child. I sent her to her room. I just didn’t know. I had to walk her up there because she didn’t understand what I was saying. Or she couldn’t hear me. Or both..All the way up the stairs she yelled, “I want my ballet slippers!” Jagged sob after jagged sob. “I want my ballet slippers!” Her little body shook like a leaf in a hurricane..My dad’s words rattled around in the back of my head “You’re really quite lenient with those kids.” Oh yeah? Watch this, Pop. She will NOT get away with this kind of behavior..“I want my ballet slippers!” She could barely catch her breath, but there was no stopping the broken record. “I want my ballet slippers!”.For heaven’s sake, enough with the %$&*!@ ballet slippers! I put her in her room. I didn’t know. God, I just didn’t know. “I want my ballet slippers!” Gasp. Sob. “I want my ballet slippers!” Over the screams, above the hoarse cry, I explained that she would stay in that room until she could calm herself down. Calm herself down. I didn’t know..I walked away. She looked so small standing in the middle of her room. I choked back my own tears. I swallowed the sour taste in my mouth. I left her there screaming, overwhelmed, confused, lost..“I want my ballet slippers!” Gasp. Sob. ”I want my ballet slippers!”.I crouched against the wall at the bottom of the steps struggling to find the right thing to do. I can still feel that wall – cool, immovable against my back. I could barely breathe. Something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what..I thought of Ferber’s sleep method – let your child know they are safe and loved but leave them to soothe themselves. I went up again. I stood in her doorway and I told her that she would be free to come out of her room when she got it together. I raised my voice in an attempt to be heard over her screams. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!” I told her I loved her. Then I told her that her behavior was unacceptable. I walked away again and left her screaming, her face streaked with mucus and tears..“I want my ballet slippers!” Her voice was breaking, but she didn’t stop. ”I want my ballet slippers!”.I was so frustrated. I was so angry. Why wouldn’t she just let it go?.“I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”.I went up again. I grabbed her by the shoulders, too hard. I squared her body to mine and chased her eyes. “Enough with the God damned ballet slippers!” God, I didn’t know. I am so sorry. I thought she WOULDN’T stop. I didn’t know she COULDN’T stop. I didn’t know there was a difference. I just didn’t know. She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me. I am so sorry.
Brooke and I stood in the upstairs guest room among the assorted detritus of her 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.”
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.
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 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.
The following is an excerpt from a post called Sometimes. To read the post in its entirety, click -> HERE.
My sweet baby girl ran down the stairs as I came in the house.
Her hair was wet from the shower. She wore her favorite pajamas – the top now two sizes too small. I don’t have the heart to make her retire it yet.
She came to me, so I dropped to the floor and sat down with her right in front of the door.
We looked at each other for a moment – wordless. She searched my face. I searched hers.
“What are you sorry that you did that?” she asked. Her little brow was furrowed into her patented expression for sad or sorry.
I didn’t answer right away.
I knew exactly what she was asking. It’s become a painful script.
“About the ballet slippers,” she said. “What are you sorry that you did that about the ballet slippers?”
“I’m sorry that I yelled that day, baby,” I said for the God knows how many-eth time. “I’m sorry that I didn’t understand.”
“You’re sorry that you yelled at me,” she said as she crawled into my lap. “About my ballet slippers. And then I had the white water.”
Four years. It’s been four years since the day that she couldn’t find her ballet slippers. It’s been four years since I yelled because I didn’t understand. Because I didn’t know. Four YEARS.
October 19, 2010
We’re trying to get through homework. It isn’t easy. We’ve had a long and relatively disastrous day. One that included a cancelled drama class, a blown-out tire, a long-expired warranty, a very nice policeman and a ninety-minute wait for a tow truck. Dinner was late and homework started even later. We are both exhausted.
As we count out coins, Brooke stops suddenly. She sits stock-still and stares out into the middle distance.
“Are you sorry?” she asks.
She’s not looking at me, but I know the question is mine.
I’ve grown weary of this routine. It’s like a vaudevillian nightmare.
“Yes, baby, I’m sorry,” I answer.
She turns to me. She looks as though she’s searching for something. Neither of us is quite sure what. I can’t help, so I wait until she breaks the silence.
“I really wanted my ballet slippers.”
“I know, baby,” I say. “I just didn’t understand.”
There’s so much more I want to say. Does she know what I mean when I say ‘I didn’t understand’? Does she wonder what exactly I didn’t understand? I say nothing.
“And you’re really sorry that you yelled at me.”
“Yes, baby. I’m really sorry.”
She’s still watching me. The wheels are turning.
She throws her body onto mine and wraps her little arms around my neck.
And as she does, she whispers into my ear.
The world goes quiet as I hug my girl.