My girl’s kindergarten field trip was rescheduled for today. Last night before bed we talked about school buses. She’s never ridden one before and she was worried she wouldn’t know the rules. I assured her they would be stated and that her teacher was nice and wouldn’t let her forget.
I kissed her and turned off the lamp.
In the dark she asked:
“Momma what do you do if your friends are best friends with eachother?”
I could hear the quiver in her voice.
“And maybe not best friends with you?” I ask the darkness.
I sit down beside her and take both her hands.
“It’s really good when our friends are friends with each other. It makes a big group of friends.”
“But we can’t all sit together on the bus,” she says, quietly.
Oh. There it is.
I tell her she’s right, but getting to sit by someone else could turn into making a new friend. Or to learning more about an existing friend.
We kiss again and she settles further under the covers.
I shut her door and curse her big heart. A heart that will be broken countless times.
I climb into bed with my husband and mourn the future–all the pain she’ll experience as kids grow older and more cruel.
“She’ll have to toughen up,” my husband says, but he doesn’t believe it either.
It isn’t in our girl to be hardened. She only knows love and that’s what she gives.
The field trip is crisp and full of color. Tennessee really knows how to fall.
The farm has a pumpkin patch, a jumping pit, and a wedding barn. She learns about about pumpkins and honey bees with her classmates, while her brother practices his first steps alongside a log posing as a bench.
She runs to me after the presentation. She needs a hug and kiss, because I’m there and it’s available.
“What did you learn about honey bees?” I ask.
She shrugs and says nothing she didn’t already know.
She slips her hand into mine.
“Will you go on the hay ride with me, Momma? Can we sit together?”
I know we’ll talk about the bus trip later, I can feel it rolling around in her mind. She needs a best friend, but still–for a bit longer–a momma will do.
The ride is short. She hops down the wooden stairs and hurries into the field to pick out a pumpkin. The pumpkins are labeled with Sharpies and names. Her classmates squeeze together for a dozen pictures. The trailers are slow to return, so we make our way back up the hill.
There’s a photo prop of painted plywood and the children stop for another round of pictures—poking their heads through ovals and transforming themselves into smiling pumpkins, and farmers, and such.
I notice two new women have joined the group. I don’t notice the girl between them—not at first.
One of the women calls out my daughter’s name.
My daughter turns and the woman calls out again, this time with a wave.
“Look! Your friend is here.”
And I see her–my daughter’s friend.
A girl propped between the two women. She is young, so young, and her body is twisted. She is carried along the uneven ground. A necklace hangs around her neck, the silicon pendent clenched tightly between her teeth.
The memories of conversations I’d only half listened to, bits and snippets of information I hadn’t followed up on–suddenly, pieced themselves together.
“There’s a girl who only comes to school in the afternoon, Mom.”
“We have babysitters who come to our class, Mom.”
“I played with my friend who can’t talk at lunch today, Mom.”
I look down at my daughter. Her eyes are pools of endless blue. She’s pulling at my sleeve.
“Can I go say ‘hi’ to my friend, Mom?”
I nod to her. All my words are gone and I watch her skip away.
My girl is going to be hurt. Cheated. Taken advantage of. That big heart of hers will be broken again and again, but this—this is what it’s for.
To befriend a little girl I didn’t even see.
I cried the entire drive home. I cried for the little girl being carried across the field. I cried for her mother and everyone else who loves her. I cried because my pretty words failed me when my daughter’s teacher pulled me aside and spoke.
“She plays with her everyday at lunch. She’s so patient and so sweet.”
I cried because I had tried to change her. I was so afraid of her hurt that I tried to hide her blessing. I wished away her gift.
After the field trip, the class had nine week awards. My daughter’s teacher handed out certificates for specials and academic achievements.
My girl’s name was called for the Cooperation Award. For including her friends, for making sure everyone could work together.
Her teacher’s voice caught just a bit on the last part. I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I did. That little catch. The same one I heard that morning in a makeshift pumpkin patch. In a field of rural Tennessee. Holding a baby and watching from a distance as my daughter posed for a picture with a friend I never knew.
I listened to her teacher. One teacher to another. One mother to another.
She plays with her everyday at lunch. She’s so patient and so sweet. As a special needs mom…when I see her—when I see how she acts—it gives me hope.
I cannot tell you how many tears I’ve cried today. For all the mothers who send their big hearted children out to play. For the hope we all carry. For the fear that makes us hard .
Years ago when I was in school, the classroom where special needs children were cared for was called ‘severe and profound’.
I will never describe today another way.
I sign my girl out after the ceremony. Together we push her brother and his stroller to the car.
“Momma is very proud of you, my love,” I say to her as our wheels roll across the asphalt.
“Why Momma?” She asks, swinging her braids in the open air. “Because I’m such a good friend?”
“Yes, my love…
…the very, very best.”
Liza Dora is an author, illustrator, and Texan living in Tennessee with her husband and two children. Liza graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in chemistry and is the proudest member of the class of 2007.
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