“Mommy, my tummy hurts.”
Her feather-trimmed angel wings made it hard for me to give her a hug. This is Christmas season, and I had spent many hours this weekend being a disinterested stage mom while she practiced for the church pageant.
The instructor had her step forward. Then back. She was uncertain about what to do, and still game. Trying her best.
During the sunrise dress rehearsal, where we all had to be at church two hours early in the hopes that we could iron out the kinks of this performance, I regretted my lack of preparation. I really really regretted I hadn’t had a cup of coffee.
I’d stopped laughing at the jokes. Yes, they were funny, but I’d seen them many times. Daughter was a champ, she’s been in performances before. I could go look for coffee.
I ducked out of the sanctuary and looked around. A walk was a beautiful idea.
Only now, I had come back and taken the kindergartener by the hand to make a potty stop before everything began.
She seemed fine. She said, “You left.”
“Yes, I am here now. I won’t leave again.”
Turns out that was not enough. Her tummy hurt and she had lost her courage.
I didn’t think I was that important. It was her performance after all. I was just sitting in a pew being bored. Regardless of how I saw it, my presence meant a lot to her.
I think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s when Holly Golightly ditches her cat. She had always said that the cat was not really hers to name: “The way I see it I haven’t got the right to give him one. We don’t belong to each other. We just took up one day by the river. I don’t want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together.”
It wasn’t until Holly was up against the wall and dropped her cat back in an alley that it hit her. The cat had run away and it tore her heart. She realized she and the cat did belong to each other. And she couldn’t forgive herself for not recognizing their connection:
“I’m very scared…Because it could go on forever. Not knowing what’s yours until you’ve thrown it away.”
I didn’t see the connection between us, the one she needed so much.
It’s always been amazing to me how she relies on me. I don’t see it. It may be the same way she doesn’t see what the instructor is telling her about standing in order on the stage steps. She can’t see how it is prettier to stand on the same step. I don’t see myself from her eyes.
She found her way to a bit of courage. She really wanted to do angel business. I was so proud of her efforts, and so sorry I had inadvertently made it harder on her.
She is a young thing. We are all grownups, right? And we’ve grown callouses on our hearts. Still and all, the people who come to celebrate our holidays with us are important. These little traditions buoy us up and they shouldn’t be trifled with.
With all the presents, connection matters more. Presence matters.