By the time I walked through the front door she was already excitedly pulling on her shoes, a pair of pink leopard print flip flops. “Hi Daddy.” She glanced out the window quick while she scampered through the living room searching for her second sandal. “Did you see at Mrs.Debbie’s house? They are working on the fence!”
I had noticed. A group of men were gathered around the fence in our kind neighbor’s yard, and a small flock of children were standing off to one side watching them. Clara had looked out to see me pull in the driveway and had realized that she was missing out on something fantastic across the street.
She took a quick detour through the kitchen before appearing again in front of me while I took my shoes off and prepared for life at home. “Mom said I can go over with my friends and watch. Can I go watch?” She looked very grown up, but still very much a child. She took a deep breath and brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes while looking over my shoulder and out the window. Along with her flip flops she was wearing a baggy pair of cargo pants with the bottoms rolled up several inches and a white T-shirt with a colorful depiction of the Very Hungry Caterpillar on it. Her hair was pulled back in a neat pony tail. I wanted her to stay. I wanted her to sit on the floor and roll a ball back and forth. I wanted hold her on my lap and practice animal noises and laugh like we did when she was young. Now as I saw those days disappearing, I wanted to do those very things more than ever. But instead, I nodded, and gave her permission to go. Almost immediately she was out the front door and I heard her sandals slapping their way down the sidewalk.
I sat on the couch and considered this tiny bite of freedom, and what it must taste like for her. To expand her world from our house to our yard, and from our yard to the surrounding yards. And to expand her family from our quiet little group to a community of other children. Fascinating new people to know and share stories with. Friends. It was an exciting time for the happy little girl trapped between stations of adolescence and childhood.
I was still considering these things when I heard her slapping her way back up the walkway towards the house. She was talking loudly with another child that was following close behind her somewhere. I looked up as she walked through the door. “Okay. Thanks! I’ll see you later.” She yelled over her shoulder and closed the door. Then she slowly walked across the room, and sat down on a chair and began to take her sandals off. The moment the door had closed a dark fog had descended onto her, dragging her shoulders and forehead down. I leaned forward to look into her face sensing something was wrong.
“Why are you back so soon?” I asked.
And at this she began to cry. I pulled her onto the couch and rocked her in my arms while she told me the story about how the other girls had told her she was too young to be there, and had laughed at her shoes and told her she would hurt herself. And how she had argued that she was five and was older than several of the other girls that were only four. And how she wasn’t the only one there wearing sandals. But they wouldn’t listen. So, she had agreed to leave and rushed home, ran back to the house as fast as she could, so she could close the door quick before the other girls could see her cry. I heard her voice again as she had come up the walkway, “Okay. Thanks! I’ll see you later.” How remarkably calm it had sounded. She had almost laughed the words over her shoulder to the girl that had escorted her back home like a baby. It must have taken all of her strength. I could immediately relate to her, and I was proud of her for controlling her actions as she had, but I still hurt for her in rejection and embarrassment.
She finally stood up and looked back out the window, pointing our which girls had said what and where they each lived. I listened and hugged her one more time while she explained.
That’s when I noticed a large bulge in the pocket of her cargo pants. “What is this?” I asked, patting the pocket that crinkled softly.
She reached in her pocket and pulled out a handful of individually wrapped fruit snacks. “I took these to share with my friends while we watched the men work. But I didn’t get a chance to give them any.” She held them meekly in her hand and then gave one to me. We sat on the couch and ate fruit snacks and watched the pack of young girls as they strut back and forth in the yard laughing and gesturing with their hands, mimicking the actions of their older teenage sisters. I rolled my eyes at their pantomime maturity.
Clara didn’t leave the house again that night. She put her pink leopard print sandals in the closet and played games with her sister. She showed me the lessons she had learned that day on the piano. We read a book together on her bed. By that evening she seemed to have all but forgotten the incident in the yard, but it hardly mattered. Because, there will be more incidents. The world is full of damaged people, and some day through repetition she will come to harden herself to it as all adults do. She will stop trusting that all children are as kind to strangers as she is. She will learn to close doors on instinct to not let the world see her crying. It’s inevitable. It’s how it works. But, I pray that the sour heartless world of young preteen girls will be kind to my daughter. I pray she continues to carry fruit snacks in her pocket to share with whoever lets her stand among them. I pray as she gets older that she remembers these days and knows to show other young girls a different arm of acceptance. So that, in a world of damaged people, she herself will not be damaged, but can instead show people a way to be repaired.