When our family arrived home Saturday from saying a goodbye I will not share about here, both of us parents were dealing with a toddler tantrum and E wandered in the back yard, thinking. She met up with her friend A (our back yard neighbor, who goes to Fairfax Elementary and just graduated kindergarten with Rebecca Meyer). This is approximately how their conversation was recounted to me later:
E: I’m feeling sad.
E: Because I just saw Becca, and said bye to her. Because she’s dying.
A: What? No. That’s not true. I think you’re lying.
E: I think I can’t be your friend any more until you’re like a grown-up or something. I can clearly imagine her spreading her fingers in the air as she said this.
We went down the street for a little while. When we got back, the neighbor girls were out in their back yard playing in the sprinkler. E went back to say hi, and came running in to tell me she’d been invited to go run in the sprinkler and that A’s mom wanted to talk to me. N told me over the fence what the girls had said to each other, and that afterward A ran in and said, “MOM! E says we’re not friends anymore, and that Becca is dying, and WHAT?”
So they had to have that conversation. I don’t blame N for not telling her daughter, and I really admire how she handled being thrown into the deep end. There is just no palatable way to tell your 6 year old that the friend they have seen every day at school or known since they were born is dying. That is an awful conversation I don’t wish on anyone, and the only honest way to make it remotely less awful for a child is to not pretend it isn’t horrific; that, and to let them know that you as their grown-up are there for them and with them. Sometimes it’s ok to cry in front of your kids.
I asked E about the conversation between the girls and said, “I feel like what you meant might have been that you couldn’t talk to A about Becca, because she wasn’t understanding what you were saying. Does that sound right?”
“Yes. That is what I meant.”
“Ok, you might just want to let her know that, because I think that whole conversation was pretty upsetting for your friend. I don’t think you did anything wrong, but it might be good to just be clear about what you meant.”
So she did.
I know many grown-ups who are not always so clear about what they mean, or so able to verbalize what they need. Sometimes I am one of them.
She doesn’t bring Becca up all the time. Several times a day for the past week, since we found out this was imminent, but I know she is thinking about it almost all the time. Dropping a piece of food on the floor is enough to make her throw herself onto the couch in tears. Wearing the wrong shoes by mistake will turn her into a sidewalk-squatting, limping mess (unless I am not looking and she is walking behind me). She whined and did not want to get ready for ballet class today. The last class of the year. I almost let her ditch it, because the truth is I didn’t really want to go either. Becca happened to be signed up for the class too. Before she got sick. Before any of this happened, today was supposed to be their last ballet class together, except that because of everything that happened, Becca never attended a single class. And instead of going next door to celebrate at Sasa after it was over tonight, we will talk about her at bedtime and cry and prepare for her funeral on Thursday. I really didn’t want to go to ballet today. But we went. We showed up. I didn’t chat very convincingly with the other moms there, but I decided to be ok with that (even on my best days I’m not that great at small talk anyway). I am cutting E a lot of extra slack these days, and trying to keep some left over for myself.
Her feelings are her own and she is allowed them. All of them. Even if she does end up wiping her tears and her nose on my skirt sometimes.