I stood at the kitchen counter, cutting a pear for Brooke’s lunch. I meticulously peeled the skin off of each slice, knowing that she would balk if she saw even the smallest hint of green. I was lost in the small, seemingly insignificant act of preparing lunch. Every slice was an act of love.
Brooke came and stood next to me. I felt her presence before I would have heard it – my stealth little kitten. She stood by my side and watched me work.
I reveled in the closeness of her and in the naturalness and ease of the moment.
She craned her neck and looked straight up at me. Her beautiful, dark eyes were wide as saucers. Deep as the ocean, those eyes. Her stare was intense, making its way past every barrier I have.
She reached up and deliberately placed one hand on my diaphragm and the other in the middle of my back. My own hands stopped working and hung in mid-air above the cutting board, suspended in time.
Still locked in on my face, she squeezed her hands together hard, compressing my middle. Her little arms shook with the effort.
I realized I was holding my breath. I let it out slowly.
She’s done this a few times before. I’ve never been quite sure what the gesture means. Its intensity is overwhelming, but it’s tough to read. Her face gives nothing away.
I decided to ask the question in language I thought she’d understand. “Brooke, when you squeeze Mama, is it a nice thing or are you upset?”
“A nice thing,” she said to the floor. She had returned to looking anywhere other than my face as she spoke.
“Well then,” I said to the top of her head, “I love you too.”
I asked if she’d like a squeeze. When she said she would, I did my best to replicate what she’d done to me.
She stood by my leg for another moment and then headed off to the den. I returned to the pear.
When I’m standing behind Brooke, I find it nearly impossible to avoid the temptation to stroke her hair. Once in a while I forget. She’ll tolerate it briefly, but eventually she squirms and ducks out of my reach. Loving her in my language doesn’t always translate into hers.
When we’re walking together, I reach for her hand. I love the simple closeness of walking hand in hand, connected to one another. She’ll oblige, but only as long as she has to. She needs her hands free. She takes in half the world through her fingers. What is to me an act of intimacy – a loving gesture – is to her something all together different.
I don’t particularly like the feeling of being squeezed. I find it uncomfortable. It just feels odd, strange. But in that moment, it was an incredible gift. “Hey, Mama,” she may as well have said, “This is how you say, ‘I love you’ in Brookanese. This is what feels right to me. Like holding hands or stroking my hair – this, Mama – this is what I need.”
For each tool that we give Brooke to help ease her way in our world, she gives us one to guide our way in hers. As we fill her tool box with language and communication skills, she is using them – those very same tools – to show us what she needs. As we have taught her our language, she has helped us to begin to become fluent in hers.
In any language, it is a joy to behold.