Wednesday nights the big kids sleep over at their dad’s, so it’s just me and Willow here after she’s back from dinner with her dad. She’s got afternoon kindergarten and I work at home on Thursdays, so we sleep in and cuddle in my bed and talk during the time that we’re usually busting ass to get out the door on time. Today she wanted to go to her before school daycare to see her friends. She was listening to her iPod and I was putting her hair in pigtails, and she started to cry. I asked her what was wrong, and she said that I was knocking her headphones off. I told her to just hold them over her ears and that I’d work around them. She stood there with her mouth quivering and big tears running down her face. I brushed her teeth for her and she was still crying. I got on my knees and hugged her and she kept on crying, not making any noise.
I picked her up and brought her over to the couch and sat her on my lap, facing me. You’re so sad, I said. Do you know what is making all those tears come? She shook her head yes, but didn’t talk. Would you like to tell me? I asked her. Sometimes, if you just say what’s making you sad, it makes you feel a little bit better.
She just looked at me, and the tears kept coming.
I held her for awhile, wiping her tears away, helping her blow her nose. Will you turn off your music and talk to me? She nodded and took off one side of the headphones and turned off the Last Unicorn soundtrack she’d been listening to.
I want to help you, Willow, I said. Will you tell me what’s making you so sad?
You yelled at me, she whispered, so small. While you were brushing my hair.
I held her little face between my hands. I am so sorry, I said. I didn’t want to yell. I wasn’t mad. I just wanted you to hear me over your music. I’m not mad, okay? I love you.
She shook her head yes and melted right into me, her wet cheek on my collarbone. I ran my hand over her back and hugged her close. And as I sat there, barely holding it together, all I could think of was how the conversation we’d just had was such a false one. Really she is sad that her daddy moved out. Really I wasn’t apologizing for yelling without meaning to; I was apologizing for breaking her heart to try and save my own. But she’s too little and it’s all still too tender to even put into words.
We got in the car, Willow still teary. I took her to daycare, and she clung to me for a little bit. I sat on the floor next to her at a tiny table as she put cotton stuffing into a tiny little felt shark body. This is so cool, I told her, you get to make a stuffed animal and it’s a shark. How awesome. She put it down and looked right at me. I need your help, mom, she said. I know you do, baby, I said. I put my hand over hers and helped her use her popsicle stick to put the stuffing in the shark’s tail.
I left her there, head bent over her work, totally concentrating. I walked out the door into the beautiful blue sky fall day, put on my sunglasses as I walked down the steps, and picked up the silent crying where she’d left off.
I know that I’ve made the right decision for me. I don’t know if it was right for Willow. All I know is that my heart keeps breaking and breaking and breaking, and I don’t know how to make it stop.