you’re sorry


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.

35 thoughts on “you’re sorry

  1. So lovely. You’ve captured so much in this post. Their memory is amazing and just like you I’m getting a glimpse of how much the Roc remembers now that he’s able to tell me. I too hope that knows how hard I’m trying and that I’m so sorry for those times I just didn’t try hard enough.

  2. Thanks for helping all of us remember to forgive ourselves. We’ve ALL been there. Frustrations mount, emotions boil over. Apologies are offered, but rarely to ourselves. I even wrote a letter of apology to T once after a yelling incident – which he promptly tried to take to school to show his aide. That note is still in his room somewhere – thankfully there and not with social services. Every once in a while I come across it and start feeling guilty all over. It’s good to knoiw I’m not alone, and that maybe, just maybe, it’s ok to forgive myself.

  3. Oh Jess, this is a beautiful post. It is a reminder that even though our kids our “delayed”, they still feel, take it in, remember.

    Sometimes, I think, the processing has to slow down because the feelings are bigger for them. They see/feel *more*.

    Good mama.

  4. My dearest Jessica,
    How could she not know…..the best mother ever.
    I am humbled by your insight and the depth of your love for her and for Katie.

  5. Taz often brings up my parenting lows, reminding me of times where I’ve done my worst. I once in my lifetime, in a rush of embarrassment and frustration during one of his public meltdowns, blurted out that he was “being a pain”. It was nearly 10 years ago, but he brings this up all.the.time. I think it’s a way of testing that I still think it wasn’t okay for me to say that, that I still think he is most definitely NOT a pain.

    Somewhere, though, I know that he, and Brooke, and all our kids, are also cataloging our parenting highs in their amazing memories. Remember that.

  6. My favorite part is when she came and jumped in your lap. What a perfect way to show her love and forgiveness. She remembers, but she’s made her peace with it. And just as she will never forget that she cried and cried, she won’t forget that moment with you in her room.

  7. There is no doubt in my mind, or anyone else or knows you, that both Katie and Brooke know how much they are loved and honored. They know!

    Love you!

  8. Beautiful. And heartbreaking. Because it reminds me of the many times I’ve done this, too. Because we just didn’t know. And because sometimes I still don’t know. Jack holds his traumas, too, and some I’m not even aware of. Until he drops a few clues … and it could be years later. Tears and hugs back atcha.

  9. Oh God, this one really got me. I have many ballet slipper moments, but one in particular stands out for me in the same way the ballet slippers stand out for you. I just didn’t know. How could I have known? But, I was supposed to know. Because I’m the mom. That’s why. And, I too know that my little guy doesn’t forget and that can be haunting. No matter how much love you give and how much you do, it doesn’t take away those moments.

  10. Amazing what you are writing one year later. Thank you for giving me (a good person) permission to get frustrated too:-)

  11. “I didn’t know….” I can’t tell you how many times I beat myself up for what I didn’t know. I am about to read the blog from M as you referred to him in the ballet slipper blog. I can’t express what your blog does for me on a regular basis. It really helps me feel like I am not alone, and that maybe…just maybe I’m not a “bad mom”. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  12. It is truly amazing what they remember, and what they go through to process it. And what I’ve found is that they also remember that you tried to understand, and that you never gave up trying to understand. She’ll always remember that.

  13. Walking home today from school it was just Riley and me. I told her I was so sorry about getting so upset the other day,when she got upset over the cello. She said, “That’s okay Mom. I know you still love me.”


  14. She knows, she forgives and she loves as is evident by her leaping into your lap and hugging you. Dang Jess I need tissues again!

  15. I am still crying. Thank you for being there for those of us doing what we can for our children. Together, we will understand and find a solution. I won’t back down! I love my son too much to “let him slide by” in the system. I didn’t know what was wrong at first-no signs until around three. We didn’t know what to do and we had differing opinions on how to approach this. His father punished him for lack of eye contact and having accidents…not listening…being clumsy. I knew my son couldn’t help it, I could tell. Now my husband knows after a def. diagnosis that my son did, in fact, have a spectral disorder. Autistic children really do know they’re different and they do remember from an early age… And they will remember those who held and hold them dear when we couldn’t understand-there were no real answers..we didn’t know exactly what was wrong. The answers weren’t there…not even for the specialists…they still aren’t. But together, as a community, we’ll find out.

  16. This story completely exlpains my life with my 4 year old son. We are waiting for behavioral test results, but I believe we are dealing with some form of autism already. Thank you for giving me something that lets me know that we are not crazy and alone. Thank you for putting this all into words!!!!

  17. This is the first of your blogs I have read, through tears. Yes we all hate ourselves for our moments of “just not getting it”, That is something I think many times a day. I pray my ” Things I hate myself for” won’t grow but it will inevitably. Thank you for staying awake after a long day and writing this when others like myself just pass out. Reading these must help so many parents not feel so alone.

  18. I just wanted to say thanks for your gift of a blog… so much wisdom, experience and inspiration.

    I’ve got a 6 year old boy with a very similar ASD profile to your beautiful daughter.

    I wrote this song for him. If it can be of use to you and your readers, feel free to share it.

    Thanks again. You make the rollercoaster feel much less scary.

  19. “I didn’t know.” I feel like that frequently. I feel it even more when my son’s father yells at and/or punishes him. He just doesn’t know. Even though we have a diagnosis – he still doesn’t know; or maybe I should say accept.

    Yet even though I supposedly “know” I still lose my cool. And he still jumps in my lap (or on any other part of me his knees or elbows happen to find!)

    Thank you for making me cry. Thank you for helping me remember. Thank you for sharing your story.

  20. Jess, I just want to thank you again for your honesty. With us, but more importantly, with yourself and with Brooke. Once again, you are truly inspirational. xoxo

  21. Oh, I remember the tears so well with my son. The comments you get ..”why doesn’t he just let it go?” How it “hurt your heart” with those comments. My son was and is so literal… very literal ..I remember saying once “Get a hold of yourself” and you turn around and you see your son giving himself a bear hug. It is so hard.
    He is 24 now. He wasn’t diagnosed until 7th grade. When a name was put to his behavior I felt like the psychologist tossed me a life raft. Just so you know, he graduated from college with highest honors, is now working in a retail store. It is difficult for him to understand people’s moods as they check out. He tells me stories of how he doesn’t get people being so rude or why they ask questions that are obvious to him. But he’s working, relatively happy working there – part time making money. He has his own car, gets himself to work on time and has made a few friends. He has come so far. Your daughter will too. Explore theater and acting for her. It will transform her and help her learn body language in a literal way.

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