Every few nights, after a bath and brushing of teeth, she climbs onto my bed. Just her and me.
Mama, I'm ready for some questions.
It was such a thoughtful gift for a five-year-old to receive for her birthday. And it suits her nature to have a book that asks open-ended questions: she has a habit of firing an endless steam of them at us each day. She loves this new ritual and having the roles reversed.
On this particular night, we were on our fifth question. It was more than we usually get through, but she had asked me to turn the page and ask one more with the promise she would slide of the bed and join her sister for a bedtime story without a fuss.
I felt awful when _______.
I expected something simple like not getting dessert or not being allowed to go to the park after dark. She normally has an answer ready for me, before I've finished asking the question.
But it was quiet.
I looked up from the page to see her sitting across from me in her footed pajamas. Her hands were laced on her lap, dimples peeking out between her fingers. I couldn't find her eyes through her lashes, because she was looking down.
I knew I had to stay quiet, that something was coming. She raised her eyes slowly.
Mama, it's a secret.
There is a child in her class who struggles with boundaries and respecting personal space. But we talk a lot about inclusivity in our home and she's still in that beautiful phase of life, when anyone she spends time with is called a friend.
I was playing with my friends and she wouldn't stop chasing me and catching me, Mama. And I didn't like it, and I didn't want her to do that anymore. And I'm supposed to say, "Please stop it." But I didn't. I got mad and said, "Go away."
She looked at me with tears in her eyes — afraid of hearing disappointment in my voice or being told that I thought she was wrong, too.
I started slowly by asking her when it had happened.
It was a long time ago. But it still makes me feel awful. I hurt my friend.
Tears filled my eyes then. I told her I was so proud of her for telling me. And that it must have been hard for her to carry that secret around so long. I told her that I've hurt my friends, too. We talked about how she could have handled it differently, by going to her teacher for some support. And we came up with the idea of inviting her friend to play.
Secrets can create such a weight. I've experienced that burden myself and ached with compassion for people I care about as I watch them struggle under the weight of their own secrets.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with Frank Warren, creator and curator of PostSecret. Along with a small group of other bloggers and writers, we discussed secrets and the power we feel when we let them go. We talked about how painful it can be to hold onto them.
It's enough to bear witness to someone's story, without fixing it ~ Frank Warren
My daughter's story — which she called a secret — had been sitting in her heart waiting for an opportunity to be released. Our ritual of question-asking had created the conversation she needed to do that, and I could see she was lighter after sharing it with me.
It was a good reminder for me. We need to do that for each other: create conversations, leave spaces, and listen. And as a parent, I was reminded that it's never to early to give our children those tools and that fearlessness.
Tomorrow night, I'll be attending the innovative live theatre performance of PostSecret and I'm hoping it will open my heart and teach me more. I have an important role to play as the catcher of secrets in my family. And I have some teaching to do, as I help my children learn to be a safe and compassionate place for others' secrets to land.