Yesterday at school, my seven-year-old daughter said something she wished she could take back the moment it escaped her lips. She threatened to hurt herself, because she was feeling trapped in a situation with her classmates and felt embarrassed. She didn’t really want to do damage, but it was the thing that popped into her head, and so… I had a phone call from a worried teacher who had heard about the utterance second-hand and had to inform me.
Within seconds, my mind was reeling about how this could possibly come from my daughter. Did she really mean that she’d hurt herself? Is there something beneath her shining eyes and smiling face? At seven years old, she is a very emotionally mature person, well beyond her short years. She’s empathetic and intuitive, and I know how these can be stresses on her. But she seems ok. Is she ok?
I could hardly wait to pick her up from school. The teacher assured me my daughter was totally fine — what she said was a simple sentence thrown into the wind and everyone had moved on; she wasn’t at all upset. Obviously I worried. It wasn’t long before the bell was to ring, so I waited to get her. Because my son was in the car, I had to wait till we were home, and alone together to inquire about her day.
It was hard not to just blurt it all out: OH MY GOD, ARE YOU OK? WHY DID YOU THREATEN TO HURT YOURSELF? It’s hard to maintain composure when you really don’t know if you’re little girl is crumbling inside.
I asked her how her day went, and about how she’d been chosen as a group leader in math. I asked who she had played with, what fun things she’d done, and if anything happened that she wanted to speak to me about.
“Why are you asking me that?”, she said skeptically.
“I had a call from Madame today…”
We talked through what had happened, and I assured her her feelings and response were totally ok, totally normal, but of course Madame had been worried about her, so she had to let me know.
During our conversation she assured me that everything was ok, but who knows? I didn’t want to press too hard. It turned from a conversation about flippantly saying things into a discussion of the meaning of life, the unfairness of losing those we love, and how terribly frightening it is to not know when we’ll die. She often asks about what would happen if I died. Why does my little girl have to carry these big feelings?
There were a lot of tears, from both of us. We sat in my car in a parking lot, while she sobbed on my lap.
“You know you will go before me, right?”, she cried to me.
“I hope so, sweetheart. That’s how life is supposed to work. I hope I don’t have to suffer losing you. But I hope to be here for a very, very long time with you”, I choked.
“But you don’t know. What if I get cancer?”, she asked.
“I wish you didn’t have to know that kids can die. I wish it never happened, and I can’t promise anything, but you are strong and healthy and I hope we will be together a very long time”, I squeaked out between my own tears.
“If you go before me, I want to follow you, Mommy. I will go with you.”
And I broke. Into a trillion pieces, I shattered and sobbed with her, feeling her intense agony over the idea of losing me, and mine over losing her. And knowing I can’t do a fucking thing about it if that’s how our lives are going to be.
I held her in my arms all night long, and woke with a pit in my stomach and my heart in my throat. I can’t make these feelings go away, and it tears me to pieces. I just hope that she is ok. Truly ok. And I hope that when it is my time to go, that it is long before her time, and that she’s strong enough to survive me.