17 January 2013

little pieces of compassion, graceful & not

Twice a week I take my daughter to her ballet class. The dressing room is the social hub, where the girls gather before and after class.  It's not really a dressing room.  It's a room with white paint, a few chairs, some fake hibiscus trees shoved in the corner and a large mirror on one of the walls.  The girls fling their shoes and coats and bags on the ground when they arrive and gather them off the floor when it's time to go.
Because we need to get home quickly, I go into the room to help my daughter gather her things after class and encourage her out the door.  One of the girls is sort of bouncing around, talking out loud, sort of to herself, but not just to herself.  She and my daughter are friendly, she's a sweet girl with a sweet face and I start to watch her after realizing what she is saying.

"Tomorrow is going to be such a sad day," she says hopping over someone's bag.  "So sad."

The other girls continue to gather up their things.  Some sit on the floor trying to piece together a rubik's cube that has come apart. The ultimate puzzle.


She tries again.  She looks over at me, the only parent in the room, and repeats, "Tomorrow I'm going to cry all day."

She gets her response. "Why?" someone asks.

"Because," she says, "my parents are getting a divorce.  They are getting divorced tomorrow."

She looks bewildered by her statement.  Like she can't quite believe it's true.  And she needed to tell somebody.  She's just a 9 year old girl, moving around the dressing room of her ballet studio, because the dance class hasn't been enough to get out her emotions and now they're coming out as nervous energy.

I think I said "That is sad."  I want to ask, "Are you okay?"  But of course she is not okay.  

At a slightly older age, this could be an awkward moment.  As it is, it is more of an inexperienced moment.  Among these girls there's not really a sense of how to act.  The girls sitting around the rubiks pieces look up.  They don't know her.  She's not in their class.  This moment is more of a curiosity than anything. 

"Why? Did they just not..." "What happened?" 

This small, serious dialogue continues around me as if I am not in the room. These are not really answerable questions from the crowd, or any of their business.  She doesn't know how to answer that question as she bends down to pick something up.  She needed to tell, and I'm not sure if she's uncomfortable now that such a private thing is out, or if I am feeling uncomfortable for her.  

A girl who sits at the other end of the room, a quiet girl, more round than lithely graceful, looks up from putting on her shoes.  

"I'm sorry," she says quietly.  

Another girl asks whose house she will live at.  She lives at her mom's house.  She visits her dad on the weekend.  

How we give and receive empathy and sympathy can be rather complicated.  It's complicated for the three minutes I stand in that dressing room hurrying up my daughter and realizing there is a little girl who needs something more than I can give.  

I'm sure it was hardly any time at all, but it felt like I stood there for a long moment, looking into her face, as she made her sad announcement, thinking, what can I do here? what should I say? But, as I said, in someways it was like I wasn't even in the room.  This was the domain of children navigating something outside their realm.  I was a brief observer.

As we leave the room, someone asks if she has seen The Parent Trap.  "You could do something like that."  It's said sincerely, but still, I think, how overwhelming and unfitting to say.  I wonder to myself how that kind of advice would feel to a child.  I don't know if the girls offer this insight so much as an empowerment, but simply more as a reference point.  Here's a movie I've seen on how to fix divorce.

It is awkward, actually.  Like their undeveloped movements in their dance classes.  There's an unsteadiness in their approach.

But still.  A little girl who felt sad and vulnerable reached out to her peers.  And they, some more graceful than others, they reached back.  And I hope it helped.


1 comment:

  1. Just read that crossing the bleak winter of Montana. What a piece. That was beautiful, and so sad.