We were in the car, about to leave the mall. My baby was hurting. Really, really hurting. And I couldn’t make it better.
We’d gone to the mall to buy a birthday present for our beloved baby sitter, Julie. Brooke had decided that Julie needed a bear pillow pet, and I’d remembered that a pillow pet store had popped up at the mall, so I suggested we give it a try.
It should have been quick and easy. But alas, a lot of things SHOULD be easy and if we’re being honest, almost nothing is ever really quick.
From the moment we’d left the house, nothing was right. Brooke was drenched in anxiety. It dripped from her pores like a bitter, toxic sweat.
No matter what I did – or offered to do – to try to help, her face remained contorted in a painful mask of frustration and fear. Her voice was tight and her words, when they came, were strangled. She’d been crying on and off for the better part of forty-five minutes.
The mall had been a disaster. The pillow pet store had closed up shop after Christmas. Once discovering it was no longer there, I tried to make a run for it, but she wanted to go to her safe zones – the toy store and the Apple store . I wasn’t about to say no if something – anything – might offer her some comfort.
The Dora game on the computer at the Apple store was tweaky. Something wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. Her nerves were shot and her tolerance for the slightest frustration was nil. A toddler cried out and Brooke shrieked in response. I gently cajoled my now sobbing girl out of the store.
We tried the toy store, but it was worse. Chock full of little kids, it was a sensory nightmare. As soon as we walked in, she let out a blood curdling shriek. I knelt down to her. “Brooke, honey, we can’t yell in the store. There are a lot of kids in here. Why don’t we leave and go to a different store where we can get Julie’s pillow pet?”
“No,” she said emphatically. “I want to stay HERE.”
She darted around frantically. She was absolutely miserable. Finally, when a little boy cried out for his mom and she began to sob again, she let me pull the ripcord and get us outside.
As we walked to the car, she cried. As we got into the car, she cried some more. I whispered to her as I helped her take her jacket off. I said the same thing I’d said in the mall. “Baby, I’m here, OK? If there’s something you need, you just tell me. I will do anything I can to help, OK?”
She yelled, “OKAAAAAAAAAY!” in my face, then sobbed.
I put the key in the ignition and took a deep breath. I cued up our favorite Carrie Underwood song on the radio.
As the ignition rolled over, Brooke yelled.
Her voice was strained, plaintiff, desperate.
“I need …”
She paused after the word ‘need’. Time stopped in the moment, offering just enough space for an entire world of possibility.
My heart raced as I thought, Anything baby. Any God damned thing. Just say the word. TELL ME WHAT I CAN DO TO SOMEHOW, SOME WAY MAKE YOUR WORLD EASIER, because for the life of me, I CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT.
She finished the sentence.
“… a hug from you right now.”
I pulled the key from the ignition and got out of the car. I ran around to my girl, opened her door and hugged her for all I was worth.
Snowflakes fell on my back. One at a time, she touched them with a single finger.
Her breathing slowed. The tears didn’t stop, but they finally ebbed.
My baby told me what she needed. And what she needed in that moment was me.
We spend so much time and energy trying to find what our children need – trying to discern what we can possibly DO, SAY, BUY or TRY to ease their way in a world that just doesn’t fit.
It’s awfully nice to know that sometimes, what they need is exactly what they already have. US.