“Do you believe them? Do you believe that you’re strong?" I asked my 12 year old daughter. She was sitting cross legged on her bed, wearing burgundy sweatpants and a pink hoodie, hunched over the paused TikTok video on her phone.
The morning light coming through the west facing window was watery and diffuse, leaving most of the room in deep shadow. I couldn't see her face anyway; it was hidden by her rainbow painted, long bobbed hair, hanging around her like a veil. “Yes,” she said, her voice just above a whisper.
I’d been about to kiss her goodbye and head to work when a quiet instinct gave me pause: something didn’t feel right. After probing a bit, I learned that she’d been feeling sad for awhile and her friends had been giving her support. I sat on the edge of the bed, my hand on her knee. “Good, I’m glad you believe them, because it’s true. You're very strong."
I brushed the hair away from her face and cupped her cheek. Her storm gray eyes lifted to mine. “Do you sometimes feel like the world would be better off without you?” I said.
Her face contracted as a myriad of emotions rushed over it and tears erupted from her eyes. She nodded and flung her arms around me. I held her close as her body shook and the tears rolled off her cheeks onto my shoulder. I closed my eyes and felt the steadiness of my breath supporting the staccato gasps of her sobs. Her hair was like silk against my cheek and I marveled at how much she'd grown since she was a helpless newborn, swaddled and cradled in my arms. I would have given anything for her to see herself as the miracle I saw.
“You’re not the only one who thinks that now and then,” I said into the top of her head. I was grateful she was at least talking with me — if only I had a magic wand. She smelled of hair dye, spicy ramen from dinner the night before, and kitten. Like a mother bear I took in her scent and wished with all my heart I could protect her from the ups and downs of being human. I wondered how long she’d been holding this in and why she’d been afraid to talk to me. She must have known I wouldn’t be upset with her.
I kissed the top of her head and she pulled away, reached for a tissue and wiped her nose. My tear dampened blouse stayed plastered to my chest.
When she turned her moist face back towards me, I put my hand on her shoulder, touched my forehead to hers, and closed my eyes. “Sweetheart, it’s okay. There aren’t any thoughts you can have that are too dark to share with me. They will never scare me because I know that’s not who you are. You’re kind… creative… talented… and very funny…”
She pulled back and gave me a half smile. “You’re also empathetic,” I continued. "You’re sensitive to the way other people feel, right?” She nodded.
“That can be hard sometimes, because you feel deeply, but it also means that you’re able to connect with people because you can understand them,” I said. She gave a little shrug and nod in acknowledgment. “Do you think you have to feel badly if someone else is feeling bad?”
“No,” she said with an almost imperceptible shake of her head.
“Oh that’s good. Because it's true, you never have to feel any certain way,” I brushed the last tear from her cheek. “So you know, when you’re ready, I can help you get rid of some of those sad thoughts and feelings.”
"Until then, I can help distract you so you don’t give them so much attention. How does that sound?”
“That sounds good,” she said. She leaned forward and gave me another hug. Her cheek was still damp against mine, but her muscles had relaxed, her breath matched mine, and the heaviness had gone. She was home again.
I bent my head and kissed her shoulder before looking into her face, “I hope, above all else, you know you’re never alone. I'm always here for you no matter what's going on and you can always talk to me. You can even text me if it’s too hard to talk out loud.”
“Oh, so it’s more important for me to know you’re here for me than to believe in myself,” she said with her characteristic twinkle and sarcastic humor returning.
I smiled, “Well, obviously that’s most important, but it can take awhile. I didn’t learn to believe in myself until I was 36.”
“Fair,” she said.
“But I do hope you’ll learn faster than I did!” I chuckled, "for now though, how about some breakfast?” I stood up and reached out towards her. She took my hand and we went to make some buttered toast.