Friday, August 17, 2012


ellis and the oaks
Memory is often insidious in nature, crafty and mysterious, buried so deeply inside us that even what triggers one or another to surface cannot be identified.

Today by no means was ordinary, but neither was it extraordinary. It was a long anticipated day, the "meet and greet" at school. Last night before bed, E's excitement was palpable and this morning's breakfast was punctuated with "Mama I can't wait!". This year begins first grade and in her multi-age classroom (K,1, and 2), it means she is one of the "bigger" kids, and has the privilege of welcoming six new kindergarteners. There were lots of welcome back hugs and the exchange of summer fun. We bought some school t-shirts, met with the nurse, dropped off school supplies. And this weekend promises a visit from family, always a treat.

Just after arriving home I walked Hiro and as I came back inside, as is E's way, she was hiding. We only need leave a room for a matter of minutes and this child will find a place to hide. This time she was behind the coffee table. The dog found her first and sort of jumped over her, but she wasn't trampled, and I asked her to come on over to the table to get ready for lunch. She puffed out her cheeks (classic gesture) holding back an oncoming flood of tears.


Being the hard-ass that I am apt to be in these situations (as in, the ones in which mountains are constructed out of molehills), I asked her to pull herself together and talk to me. I told her certainly having the dog jump over her was not so traumatic that it warranted such tears. This led to sobs, her own version of them, which are painfully quiet. For years we have been working on talking through our hurt. Since I "knew" this was not a catastrophe, I thought it was a good opportunity to encourage it. I had her take deep breaths and I decided to act as though her crying this hard was in no way alarming... after a glass of water, lunch served, I sat next to her and took her hand and asked if she could tell me what had made her this upset. A few bites into her sandwich she was able to open up...

E: (choking through these words): "Well I was thinking something... (long pause)... before, from before you came... before you met me"

Mom: (goosebumps all down my spine, feeling completely horrible for assuming she was crying over the dog): "You were? Do you want to tell me what you were thinking about?"

E: (again, crying through this): "Well it was a big building. Someone took me to a big building. They took me in the morning. And it was dark because the windows was closed and I was scared because when I woke up in the big building no one was there and I was scared".

Immediately I gather her into my lap, hold her to me, and we are silent for a long time while she cries. I fight my own tears.

Mom: "E I am so sorry you were scared and that you felt alone, that is a very hard thing to go through. I wish this had never happened to you, and I think you are so brave. Was this just before we met you? When you said good-bye to your jie jie?" (this was her favorite nanny at New Hope Foster Home in Beijing, she was transferred back to Jiazuo SWI in Henan about a month before we came to China, leaving the place where she had lived for 3+ years).

E: "Yeah it was in the morning but jie jie didn't take me Mama, someone else took me and I never saw jie jie again. And the building was big and the window was closed and it was dark". (By window, I believe she means shades, as later she says they were opened. Also interesting to note that Jiazuo is considerably larger than New Hope- several stories high).

I am astounded by her ability to recall such detail, though I am not certain what sparked this particular memory. It's strange how you might be going about your day when suddenly you are engulfed by the power of what is retained within us, buried in our hearts and our minds. How fragile we are, how fragile she was and is, still. And how incredibly courageous and resilient. I wish she'd never had to be...

These memories are an inestimable gift. How grateful I am that she has some way to put words to what are no doubt mere flash images in her mind, and that she finds a way, despite the flaws of her mother, to share them with me.

I am daily humbled by her strength and grace.