The apple didn't fall far from the tree. My oldest daughter, at 5, is a feeler. It seems some kids (and adults) are quite literally made of rubber. Something rough or potentially painful gets thrown their way, it bounces right off. Any momentary dimple made by the (non)-event is promptly righted, the smooth surface bears no evidence of the incident.
Others, like my daughter (and me), are more sponge-like. Memorable celebrations, challenging relationships, meaningful transitions -- our pores greet such events with widening circumferences, opening like arms spread wide to embrace the moment. The details, the highs, the lows, they seep in. Permeating the surface, the details simmer inside. They head to the heart, urging it to beat a bit faster. They swirl in the stomach, gravity-defying waves crashing and rising. They rise like a hot air balloon to the face, filling cheeks with a rosy warmth.
All sponges have a tell. For my daughter, it's her eyes -- her enormous, deep pools of chocolate give her away. If she's thrilled, if her heart is so full of joy or love or unadulterated excitement, light is born in her eyes. From within, that light dances out for what seems like miles, brightening everything on which she gazes.
And when she is moved. Or when she is hurt. Or when she feels loss. Well, her eyes tremble. She won't immediately burst into tears. Instead, she'll ask questions. But in a voice so quiet I hardly recognize it as hers. And she looks deeply into my own eyes. Without words, probing for guidance. For help. For reassurance. And, on these occasions, the tears eventually come like the great flood.
And so I knew what the evening held in store when I picked her up from her last day of preschool. A school where she has loved her teachers with her whole being. A school where she has come to understand the power of a best friend. A school where her younger sister has blossomed from an infant into a small but cherished friend.
I knew the moment we walked outside of the doors into the warm, summer air. She looked up at me. And her eyes seemed to vibrate. And the moment I turned on the car, she whispered, "I didn't realize it was my last day in that room." Despite the fact that we had discussed it previously, she only understood it in that moment. And then the tears came. Hot and fast, salt rivers paving trenches in her still suntan-lotioned cheeks. And I said everything I could think of to help her through it:
"It's okay, kiddo. You're going to love camp." But still they rolled down her face for the duration of the drive home.
"You don't have to cry, we'll still see your friends all the time." But still great sobs echoed from within, accented by staccato half-breaths, dinner plate pushed aside.
"You can calm down, we'll see if your teacher can babysit sometime, OK?" But still she curled up on her bed, pulling her covers up, balling the sheet into her eyes -- her personal, oversized tissue.
And because I was out of consoling words, and because none of them seemed to help anyway, I quietly got into bed beside her. I pulled her blanket up over her arms like a cocoon and reached my arm around to hold it tight to her.
And in that moment, I was exhausted, and spent, and the weight of her world sat in my heart like a stone. I closed my eyes and I remembered -- and felt -- all of the heart-wrenching goodbyes I had ever experienced. And I whispered to her the only truth I knew.
"Let it out."
"What?" she murmured, peering up at me between swollen eyelids.
"Just cry," I told her. "Because your heart is filled with so much love right now, the only thing left to do is to cry it out to help make room in your heart for all of the love that's still waiting for you in the world. So cry. And cry until you can't cry anymore. Cry loud and long. Make some room in your heart."
And I hugged her close, waiting for the blast.
But it didn't come.
She just stared at me, eyes wide. Filled with light. And then she closed them. And she breathed. A long, deep, shaky breath. The first real breath she had taken in hours.
And then I knew. She didn't need me to tell her it was going to be OK. Or to stop crying. Or to move on. She needed permission to feel it. To know that her emotions were real. And valid. And that it wasn't just okay to feel them, but that it was, in fact, a gift to do so.
She fell asleep fast and peacefully. And I came to the computer to write it out, wringing my own sponge, making room for all of the love and lessons I know she will continue to bring me.