This little girl was at overnight camp for the first time,
and on the way there, she asked if she could sit in the front so we could talk. She asked, “Mommy, what’s something you don’t understand, but not like something big that nobody understands–like ‘what’s your reason’–but like something small?” I borrowed a line from Spain circa 1425 and told her I didn’t understand how the earth could be round when every time I’m on a highway, it feels like I’m driving on a straight line.
But her question reminded me of May 10th. Aaron had left to teach Swing Machine, and Clara, William and I were finishing dinner. Clara had missed some questions on a math test, and when she was visibly upset, a couple kids told her she was, as of 2017, one of the worst things you can be in second grade: sensitive. Sensitivity is the second grade version of stagnation; it means you aren’t growing up, you aren’t moving forward, which will send any reflective 8-year-old into an existential crisis.
Clara says, “I’m not sure I have a reason. I’m not sure I have a purpose.”
I am unsuccessfully working my way through this conversation and so took a break to regroup and brush my teeth. I’m brushing and there is a loud knock on the door that only strangers use.
An 8:00 p.m. knock at our house is not a neighbor’s son who wants to play a few more minutes before bedtime. It’s not an older neighbor with arthritis who needs help opening a jar. It’s concerning.
I’m spitting out toothpaste and William has run to the kitchen door, the door for friends, and opened it wide. I’m scrambling, trying to get the man’s attention through the windows on my way to the kitchen.
Clara beats me there and has her arms around William’s neck. The man is aggressively asking ,”Where’s your mom?”. I am now yelling, “Hello! I’m coming!” from the house, nearly there.
I walk into the kitchen and the man is frantic. He is repeating, “He can’t do that. He can’t just open the door like that.” He is holding a brand new, bright green rake and wearing a shirt that says “Be Blessed” in red bubbly letters. He’s struggling to get his words out. He asks if he can rake our yard now that the sun has gone down. I’m scared; I want him to hear me say the words “father” and “husband.” I tell him, “no, it’s okay, my husband likes to take care of the yard on the weekends,” which is a truth.
He turns to leave, and through my sweep of relief, I hear Clara call out, “Thank you for offering.” She doesn’t fully understand the expectation of economics. She sees a nice man leaving our front porch.
He turns back and says, “She’s going to be a very good girl” and walks out. Her face fills with a smile.
We close the door. For a moment, I feel what he felt. I think about what it must be like to never be told “thank you.” Seeing the moment for what it was rather than what it could have been, I cup her sweet, soft cheeks in my hands and tell her, “That’s your reason, that’s your purpose.” She beams.
As we go to bed, Clara is telling me about the boys she likes as boyfriends and I am curled up on the bottom bunk with William for story time and prayers. After we recite “Our Fathers who are in heaven, hailed be tie name”, I hear Clara whisper, “Thank you for giving me my reason.” And I am thankful that she helps me understand mine.