I see anger and hurt in her little face, but there isn’t time to address it.
I pack her lunch. I make her toast and oatmeal. I put a little watercolor Valentine heart next to her plate.
“You make me proud every day.
She smiles and says thanks, but I can see it didn’t reach her. The place inside where it is hurting is hidden too deep. I can’t reach it with a card or a hug.
It is time for her to leave for school. She moves slowly, layering three jackets over her flower dress.
“Remember,” I tell her. “You control what kind of day you have.”
“Yeah,” she says and gives me a half hug before walking out the front door.
I watch her stomp away with her head down. She doesn’t look back, but I wave from the door anyway.
I drink my coffee and silently pray for her.
The day drains away. Errands. Cleaning. Driving. Driving. Driving.
Carpool reports she screamed on the way to school because she lost a game.
Brother reports she was yelling at some kid on the playground.
She reports everything is unfair.
The day isn’t over. We have to make a second trip back to school. She brings her knitting and I think maybe this wave is over.
On the drive back home, she starts in on her brother again. It is over nothing at all.
He tries to tell her he doesn’t want to argue, but she clearly does.
She needs to prove her point and won’t stop.
The sound scrapes along the edges of the car and seems to fill every space.
“Stop it,” I say.
She does not. The sound escalates and I try again.
“Just drop it,” I say louder. “I’m serious. I don’t want to hear it anymore.”
I turn on the music, but she continues even louder.
The sound reminds me of arguing with my brother as a kid.
I want to tear my hair out.
I want to tear her hair out.
“I’m fucking sick of this shit,” I blurt out. “Stop fighting. You have been fighting from the second you woke up. I’m over it. STOP. NOW.”
Even as the words come out, I regret them. I want to force them back down my throat, but the damage is done.
She begins to sob.
You fucked up, I tell myself. You really fucked up.
Even so, I am still angry and my heart has turned into a heavy stone.
“Stop crying,” I yell.
“I can’t!” she yells back. “Don’t you understand I can’t?”
“You can and you will,” I say.
The rest of the drive home, I fume and she sobs.
We walk in the door and she loudly clomps up to her room. I stomp into mine muttering about respect and how ridiculous she is being.
I put on my pajamas and wash my face. My anger slowly fades and the sound of her sobs reaches me. A stab of guilt and regret does too.
I take a deep breath and walk into her room.
She is hiding under the blankets crying.
“Can I sit down?”
“Can I hug you?”
She lunges into my arms and cries into me.
“I’m a ugly, bad and stupid girl,” she cries. “Nobody will ever forgive me.”
I hate every one of these words.
“Oh love,” I start.
“It is true,” she says. “I am so stupid and dumb.”
I hold her and let her tell me all the things. The boy who told her she looked like a pile of garage. The girls who won’t let her play with them at recess. Her fear she will never learn to ride her bike without training wheels. Her anger at being the littlest in the family.
All. The. Things.
With each word her body softens until she is a mushy, soft baby back in my arms. I cradle her to me and rock gently.
“No matter what you do, I will never love you any less fierce,” I say. “You can never, ever do anything I won’t forgive. Ever. You are my girl and nothing will ever change my love for you. Ever.”
The smile on her face radiates and I am bursting with love.
How could I have ever yelled at this precious face? How could I have forgot for even one second how small and beautiful and tender and perfect she is?
“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I should not have yelled at you. I lost my temper and it wasn’t OK.”
“You are the best mommy ever,” she says.
We melt into a mushy pile of love under the blankets and talk and talk and talk.
She really does make me proud.