For my birthday this year I asked that we simply spend the day together as a family – go to a movie and out to eat. The choices for movies were somewhat limited as I wanted our 5+ year old daughter to join in the fun. It was between Frankenweenie and Brave. I chose Frankenweenie.
A bit of a spoiler alert here: in the film a young boy brings his dead dog back to life. Logic follows that before the boy can bring the dog back to life, the dog actually has to die. And it does, in the first ten minutes of the film.
From the moment the dog dies through the end of the film our daughter begged to leave. She didn’t want to watch this. It was too much for her. Nick and I thought for sure the film would lighten up and it would be fun and she’d enjoy it. It didn’t. We forced our little girl to sit through the film to the very end. She curled up on my lap and hid her face for the last half of the film, sobbing that she wanted to leave. I’m not sure why I didn’t just say, let’s go. I was stuck in lack, for certain. We’d just paid a lot of money to get into the theater and a bunch more money on junk food. It was my special day, damn it. I wanted the day to be about me, my needs, my wants. And I honestly thought the film would get lighter and she’d enjoy it.
I didn’t listen to the needs of my girl.
She couldn’t get to sleep for the next several nights, and was up until midnight or 1am, fighting sleep, terrified of nightmares. The nightlight came back on in her room. She asked us why we didn’t listen to her, why I didn’t listen to her, why we didn’t leave. More traumatizing than the film itself was the fact that we, that I, didn’t listen to her, didn’t hear her, didn’t take care of her. We apologized, I apologized. We explained we thought it would get to be more fun. We told her we should have listened to her, regardless. We made a mistake. We were deeply sorry for our mistake and we would do better next time. Mama would do better next time.
As these things work, there always is a next time. It’s the beauty of life: you always have a chance to do better, to make a different choice, to repair, to heal.
Today on a hike with some fellow unschoolers we saw salmon spawning in the stream. It was fun to watch and the kids were intrigued. At one stop along the way there was a large, headless, salmon. The kids looked at it and my daughter asked how it died. We said maybe a raccoon got it, or maybe it was just old and died. She apparently thought about this for a few hours, because on the way home, she started crying about the salmon.
She was so sad that she didn’t get to say good-bye to it. She was deeply feeling that the fish died alone, and that was the saddest feeling in the world to her. She didn’t want the fish to be alone. She wanted it to be remembered.
I told her we could go back to the park tomorrow to say good-bye. She then said we needed to have a marker, so we would always know where the salmon died. As the evening progressed we have decided to decorate a rock that we will take to the bridge where we saw the salmon. A marker. We will mark the bridge too in someway so that if the rock gets lost we will still know.
She was overwhelmed with the sadness for the fish of dying alone. It was beautiful to witness. It was beautiful to feel. It was beautiful to listen to my girl.
It was beautiful to give her the gift of listening, of honoring her deeply sensitive soul. It was amazing to let her feel and in those moments, feel myself, the profound sadness of death.
I am deeply feeling like my girl is. I was at her young age crying about the death of a ladybug. I remember being told “It’s just a bug. Nothing to be upset about” in a mocking, insensitive way. The adults didn’t understand me. I’ve hidden my sensitivity for a long time. I’ve been ashamed of it. Scared by it. Put up walls and hid.
I honored my girl today. By honoring her, I honored myself. By letting her express her deep sadness, her deep profound feeling, I healed the little girl in me who was mocked. I cried with my girl today about the death of the salmon. About the sadness of dying alone. We talked about heaven and how that fish can feel the love she’s sending out to it. It knows.
I had the opportunity to repair my relationship with my daughter today. I had the opportunity to repair my relationship with myself. I seized it. Thankfully, I seized it.