a story told twice


{image is a photo of Brooke waiting for Big Joe to make her a balloon monkey while Katie watches.}

I’m not going to lie. I’m not even going to pretend to be modest about this. What follows might be the greatest thing I’ve ever shared with you. And not because I wrote it – or at least not the part of it that matters – but precisely because I didn’t. What you are about to read is the same story told twice. The first version is written from my perspective; the second is Brooke’s.

It is the story of her fifth birthday party. It was, as I told it, mostly a disaster, and mostly a disaster of my making. I wrote it as a lament of how little I knew, of how many perfectly avoidable mistakes I’d made in planning the party, of how heartbroken I was that she’d had such a hard time.

It was, as she tells is, a triumph. She wrote it .. and added to it and refined it and revised it in school over the course of months. The assignment was to describe something that she’d had to – and did – overcome in her life. She could have chosen so many things. This .. this is what she wrote. It is a celebration of her will, her spirit, her light.

“Because I am a young lady who can let go and move on,” she told me last night. I recognized the words from her school’s motto. They held no less weight just because they happen to be on every wall at school. They meant something to her. And so to me too.

This is the story – from my perspective and then hers. Watch for the differences. They matter the most.


From Diary, April, 2008 …

We had set up the basement for the show and then planned to bring everyone upstairs for pizza and cake. Big Joe had the fantastic idea of making balloon animals for the kids as they filed in to keep them entertained before the show began. So, our proud birthday girl was first in line to get her balloon. Big Joe said, ‘OK, my dear, I have loads of animals I can make for you. I can make cats, dogs, bunnies, swans, snakes (hmm, I can make a snake I thought, just hand her the balloon), hats, horses and giraffes. So, of course, when he said, ‘So what would you like?’ she said, ‘A monkey.’ So he ran through his list again. And when he said, so which of THOSE would you like, Brooke?’ she got to say it again. ‘A monkey.’

Now here’s the thing. Brooke has some very consistent favorites, and, as you might expect, she can be pretty particular about them. Color = red, Shape = star, Number = 2, Letter = Y, Animal = yeah, you got it  – monkey. So, she wanted a monkey. Anyone else thinking of that kid in The Wedding Crashers saying,  “Make me a bicycle, clown.”? Anyway, I digress.

Now Big Joe knows his audience and he confidently assured us all that although what he was about to make would have a striking resemblance to a dog, our little princess would absolutely love her ‘monkey.’ And he pulled it off beautifully. Ah, the power of suggestion. So she walked away happily clutching her monkey dog. Then the room began to fill.

As the low-ceilinged room filled, it became a sensory nightmare. The noise level skyrocketed. The kids ran from one end of the room to the other, children screamed for their parents, parents excitedly greeted each other. Brooke did what Brooke does. She shrieked and ran upstairs crying. We thought it wise to let her stay upstairs in the relative quiet and wait for all the kids to gather and get their balloons and then, when things calmed down and everyone was seated for story time, we’d head back down and join the party. We sat in her favorite chair and I sang in her ear to calm her.

So, for the first twenty minutes or so, Brooke’s party carried on downstairs without her. We broached the doorway to the stairs a couple of times but she balked immediately at the noise. But hey, it sounded like our guests were having a great time.

Okay, time for the stories .. The big moment. The realization of my baby’s vision of her party. Big Joe. Telling stories. At home. With all her friends (and Joanie the teacher). Deep breath, here we go, Honey. You’re okay. Down the stairs. Mama will hold you. It’ll be okay.

The kids are sitting nicely. But they’re laughing. Hard. And they’re wiggling around. And they’re gesturing along with Big Joe. And they’re shouting out excitedly. And the parents are laughing along with them in delight. And it’s her worst nightmare. And she panics. And runs. And we are upstairs. Again. And the party is going on without us. Completely.

She is shaking. And crying. And my heart is breaking for her. We sit in the chair. Again. I sing in her ear to calm her. Again. There are tears streaming down my face meeting hers. She curls up on me in the chair and rests her face on my chest. A mom walks into the room and tells me later she mistook us for a mother nursing a baby.

We can hear Big Joe from where we are. I encourage her to listen. At least maybe we can be a part of her party from here. I try to bring us to the door at the top of the stairs to listen better. It’s too close to the noise. She shrieks, perseverating on the number seventeen. “Seventeen! Seventeen! Seventeen!” We retreat. Again. Back to the chair. Again. I sing in her ear. Again. I comfort her. Again.

Another little girl is now upstairs too. She can’t handle it either. I pass her mom in the hall as I hold Brooke, bouncing slightly as I sing. I’m holding a five year old, but I know that I look like I’m soothing a colicky baby. I pass another mom whose husband is walking her son around the neighborhood because he too had to escape the room. She sees my red eyes and quietly says, “This is what we do.” I feel better. And worse.

The show is coming to an end. Earlier, I had heard Big Joe telling the kids he was going to dress up as a princess in the last story. I’ve got it – a hook! I know she’ll want to see that. I sell her on it. She wants to give it a shot.

We make it to the landing. We’re past the door. She hasn’t screamed. We’re making it down the stairs! This might work! I catch Joe’s attention and signal him to try to take the volume level down if he can. It’s too late. The kids are having a ball. They are laughing. They are yelling. They are having the great time we hoped they would. And all I want is for them to quiet down so my sweet baby won’t lose it.

She’s in the circle! She’s sitting! Wait, someone jostles her. She’s looking around. She’s not comfortable. She’s getting anxious. I can see her body starting to tense. Damn it. She’s in an all out panic. It’s been forty-five seconds and she’s yelling. And kicking. And looking up at me through tears, panicked, screaming at me, “I don’t want to stay!’ and it takes me a minute to piece together the words and understand her. And then I do.

And then we’re upstairs. Again. in the chair. Again. And my heart is breaking for her. Again.


From Brooke’s 8th grade memoir, June, 2017 …

Nine years ago, I was celebrating my fifth birthday. I remember feeling so excited for my friends  to come. The theme of my party was Dora the Explorer Halloween. The party took place on April fifth two thousand eight at my house. All of my preschool friends were coming to celebrate with me.

Big Joe the Storyteller came to tell fairy tales. Big Joe began the show, all my friends and I started to get so excited. Big Joe was sitting in a chair just like a teacher at school who is reading at storytime. My friends and I sat around Joe patiently waiting for the stories to begin. The very first story was Goldielocks and the Three Bears. Big Joe began to tell the stories using one puppet bear, whose mouth moved when Big Joe spoke. Everyone loved it!

Everyone was shouting with excitement and glee, but I began to feel a little scared. The noise of the laughing kids startled me. I started crying. I tried to find a quiet spot and ran upstairs to the living room because I was feeling so overwhelmed. When I got upstairs, I found my friend L. She was feeling overwhelmed too. I was so upset that a ran to the piano, sat on the stool and rested my head in my arms. After a second, I felt my mom’s hand on my shoulder. She was lightly stroking my arm saying, “It’s okay Brooke.” I was trying to be brave so I stopped crying. Having my mom comfort me was making everything better.

After a little while, I started to calm down and feel a bit better. So I came back downstairs to join the party. When we started to have my Dora Halloween Birthday Cake. My mom told everyone to sing to me quietly. This was really nice because I didn’t like it when the kids sang loudly. While everyone sang very quietly to me, I felt happy and proud. It was so nice of my friends to sing so I would not feel scared.

Looking back at this event, it is important to remember that when you have a challenge, you don’t give up. Just like at my fifth birthday even though I felt upset, I calmed down and went back to the party. 


That is the story – from my perspective and then hers.

You see the differences?

They matter the most.


6 thoughts on “a story told twice

  1. I read this three times and am just fascinated by the way you wrote this and the two very different perceptions….

    I just love how you have developed into my hero!

    I could never have dreamed about how incredible you are in all the best ways possible….

    Love you,



  2. I just stumbled upon this and I am so glad I did. As the parent of a young man with autism, I know that I project my interpretation of events—-usually full of doom and gloom. But every so often someone will point out that my son seemed perfectly happy. Your daughter’s beautiful interpretation of the story reinforces that there are always two stories.

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