My daughter pops the play tent open and gets it ready. Sleeping bag, sheet, pillow, books, and her brother’s Spiderman lantern. She gives me a hug and kiss and asks me to put sheets over the tent to make extra dark and cozy and turns on the light.
Dark, cozy and comfortable. A girl cave.
“Good night, Baby. I love you.
“Love you too, Mama”
She sings to herself in her chosen isolation where she will read and eventually fall asleep thinking of the characters from her book. Maybe she will insert herself into the adventures they go on.
From her brother’s bed I can see the silhouette of her curls pressed against the side of the tent.
Earlier that day I let her brother cross the street from the car door. There were no cars and he ran right across safely but as I put him down she called to him, “Hurry!” Her hair bounced as she waved her hand emphatically – clearly not comfortable with my decision to let him cross without me.
She worries about others. She cares about her family and friends. She cares about a person on the street with a broken down car.
“Mama, should we see if they need help?”
I appreciate her empathy but always remind her she doesn’t need to worry about everything.
“What’s my most important job?” I ask her.
“Taking care of us” she says.
I tell her it’s wonderful that she is concerned about others but remind her to let me do the worrying. No parent wants their child to carry the weight of the world.
I help her. I help my son. We help the person on the street who needs a bottle of water while they wait for the tow truck. I know that someday I won’t be able to take on every worry she has but for now, she is reassured.
She sleeps in her tent, a foot sticking out of one corner. I stick it back in and shut off the lantern. It’s dark and small and enclosed and she is happy.
Hundreds of miles away, another girl is the same age as my daughter. I wonder if she is asleep right now.
I wonder if a pop up tent would be an adventure for her or if being in a small, dark space would scare her. If the adventures may quickly turn to ghouls and goblins and visions of things past.
I wonder if she also worries. I have heard fear in her voice before.
“Mama, please don’t scream because I don’t want you to get shooted.”
A child pleading.
I wonder how her mother feels – the capacity to shield her child from life’s hardships for just a few short years, having been snatched from her far too soon and far too violently.
First when her boyfriend was murdered in front of her and her baby. Again when she was handcuffed and thrown with her child in a police vehicle, her love’s blood still wet on her. Again, when she was held for questioning. When her daughter was separated from her by people wearing the same clothing that the man who shot her stepfather was wearing.
How the mom felt when the world moved on. Or when they didn’t. When the killer was acquitted. When the video of this – a recording of their nightmare – was put on display for the masses to comment on, judge and dissect over and over and over.
I wonder if the little girl will re-visit that day every time she sees blood on a skinned knee. When she hears the song that was on the radio. When she is away from her mother. When she encounters law enforcement.
I wish instead we saw a video of her playing with a friend’s new kitten or could hear what she sounds like if she sings herself to sleep. I wonder if she likes Spiderman too. I wonder what flavor of ice cream she would have gotten…
I hope her youth protects her in some small way from the trauma of her experience. I wish for her the fullest joy. I hope there is some way this joy will happen for her without massive burden, and that worry, or anger, or hurt, or fear will not overwhelm it.
I hope her mother still has chances to protect her daughter from some of life’s burdens as I still can for mine.
And I hope we change this world so no other child ever shares such an experience.