A week ago my 11-year-old daughter went to a birthday sleepover. There were six other girls there: 3 she knew and 3 she didn’t. She’d been to the birthday-girl’s house many times. It was familiar to her. She looked forward to the party, the night, the overnight. But things change.
The first text message came at 1:17 a.m. “Mom, can you come get me?”
Me, asleep and barely able to be coherent: “Why?”
Abby: “Because they are watching a scary movie and I feel like I’m going to cry.”
Me, waking up enough to know I don’t want to drive across town at this time of night: “Can’t you just close your eyes and go to sleep?”
Abby: “Mom, please?!?”
Me, now awake, sitting up: “OK. Get your things together and I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”
Now parenthetically let me say that normally I would talk her down; I wouldn’t so quickly come to her aid. But somehow this turn of events didn’t surprise me. My intuition was right – my hesitancies from the outset realized. Now, no matter the hour, she deserved to be rescued, safe…home.
Me, at the front door, about to head out: “Make sure you have all your things together. I’ll text you when I’m pulling up in front.”
Abby: “Don’t come. They turned the movie off.”
I headed back to bed and was asleep within moments. Proud.
Then, at 2:02 a.m., this message: “Mom, come get me. I’m going to cry. I want to come home, please?!?”
Me, now out of bed and moving toward shoes and keys: “Why?”
Abby: “Because the girls are telling me that I’m being mean and stand-offish. I’m not.”
Me: “I’m on my way. Get your things and watch for the car. I love you.”
At 2:20 I was there and watched a girl in oversized pajamas, tennis shoes, and a baggy sweatshirt make her way to the car. Not inches from the door, she burst into tears and cried the rest of the way home. Heartbreaking.
She slept with me that night – breathing deeply within seconds, before the tears had even dried on her cheeks.
When I got up the next morning I thought about what it must have been like for her to find herself in such a place: confronted with a reality she did not like and having to choose whether or not to tell her truth (to friends and to me) or to lie, to suffer through, to bear up under the peer pressure, to keep a stiff upper lip, to soldier on.
May I just say: I HATE THAT THESE PLACES EXIST FOR MY DAUGHTERS!
As much as I want her to be able to stand her ground and stand up for herself, I’m grateful she was able to tell her own truth, cut her losses, and find safety at home with mom.
Those spaces are too far and too few between, aren’t they? The older we get, the less refuge we can find. We know all too well what it costs us to shed seen tears so, with no one in which to safely confide, we swallow them. We figured out long ago what was required of us in social situations; no matter our preferences or experiences, we go with the crowd. We remain silent. Sometimes small. Swallowing more and more of ourselves into the only safe place we can find: deep inside.
My 11-year-old’s truth was allowed to come out this time. It won’t always be so.
But what if it was? What if we were able to (re)create spaces in which our daughters and sons, and each of us could know safety, comfort, and yes tears? No retribution. No consequence. Just truth.
Abby: “Mom? Will you come get me?”
Me: “Of course, Abby. I’ll be right there.”
The days are flying past. Soon you will no longer ask. But when that day comes, may you still choose safety over harm, comfort over suffering, and tears over compliance. Tell your truth, sweet girl. It matters.