By Tamara Brennan
Sooner or later, in every child’s life, it’s bound to happen. For my tender child, unexpected rejection came from her very first friend and before her third birthday. Clarisa and her shadow, little sister Antonia, live on the other side of a wire fence just outside our kitchen in southern Mexico.
As soon as Nicole could walk, she would stand at the fence and call out to the little girls. To her great delight, they would come and together they’d enter the magic bubble of little girl friendship. Early on, Niki was so thrilled to have contact with other children that she ran into the house for her best toys to pass to them through the fence. For a long time to a short life, the girls were her most treasured friends. She gave the oldest friend the nickname “Coliflor,” cauliflower in Spanish.
Every morning, Nicole gleefully raced over to the fence to call Coliflor out of her house, the unbuttoned lower parts of her pajama top flapping like the mudflaps on a semi-trailer as she bounced through the long grass.
Suddenly one day, as I watched from the kitchen, my forlorn child called over and over to the children who refused to look her way. The chill that began that day never warmed up. The family on the other side of our fence has had its share of challenges with alchoholism and even child abuse. This friendship was not to be, and my Niki was crushed.
“Coliflor no habla,” (won’t talk to me), she would say over and over all day long for days. Not wanting to slap a “mean-girl” label on the kid, I instead modeled how one sees beyond the hurt toward understanding that sometimes people are complicated. I told her that the girls might have a tummy ache to buy time while hoping they’d come around. Regrettably, a talk with their mom confirmed that, yes, people are complicated.
Healing Takes Time…and Patience
Every afternoon, my daughter and I go on a walk at the urging of our dog Gandhi. Days after the Coliflor freeze began, we came upon a little girl sitting in front of her house. “Well hello!” I, the eager mama, said. Niki refused to come out from behind my legs. After a brief chat, Yaremi ran to get her favorite toys to show Nicole. But my wary child would not go near this unfamiliar short female person. After all, there was not even a fence for protection. The little girl was persistent and engaging, so eventually Niki loosened her grip on my legs and ventured a little closer.
The next day we went back. This time, three little girls rushed over to Nicole like a group of eager puppies. Despite my reassurances, she dashed up the street a safe distance and hugged her dolly like a shield over her heart. Fortunately, the urge to bond and play was stronger than her memory of being shunned. After a couple more afternoon meetings on that street, the warmth started to thaw her reflexive need to protect herself.
As we walked home, I would ask her to tell me the story of her experience with these new girls. One afternoon, I tried to find my way to the most tender point of hurt in my daughter’s heart, so I could better read the questions floating above the accident scene where her innocence had been damaged. As we made our way home past the familiar landmarks, she covered her ears as we reached the angry dog that always barked ferociously from the roof as we passed. Rounding the corner, the friendly street dogs swarmed around us saying their hellos. We knew all the dogs from so many walks and even had names for them. Then it hit me.
“Honey, when we walk, we go past all kinds of dogs. There’s Barky! She’s so loud and she scares us. But you know what? There are other dogs: Dirty-happy dog, Sleepy dog, Blackie, Little guy, and all the others that we know. Of all those dogs, only one is scary, only one. All of the rest say ‘hi’ and want to play with Gandhi. One barky dog and lots that want to play. And it’s the same with little girls!” After some silence, she stopped walking and looked at me. I knew I was on sacred ground.
Healing through Song
This new insight begged for its own song. Ours has grown into an epic with many verses, shifting lyrics, and a mixture of English and Spanish. Its healing power comes from it’s evolving form.
In the parade of little girls, there are many little girls,
Happy ones, friendly ones, cutie ones, bouncy ones
Lots of little girls.
Coliflor no habla, adiós Coliflor.
No habla, no habla, adiós Coliflor.
I wish you a happy life.
I hope you never get a tummy ache.
I have to go now and play with my new friends.
For days, Nicole would make the request, “Mama sing the Coliflor part,” over and over as it goes with little minds working to get used to a new idea. So I’d sing at breakfast while we could hear the neighbor girls playing near our kitchen and throughout the day.
One day, we went to get Yaremi to come play at Nicole’s house. Niki skipped with delight beside her friend as we walked up our hill. The song grew new verses and old parts shifted to accommodate new experience.
Yaremi is my friend; she comes to my house,
And we play with my crayons and we play on my swing,
And we eat yummy soup and we…
Cayla is my friend. She lives in Guatemala.
She comes to my house and she sits in my chair.
Cayla is my friend.
The other morning, as the sun rose over the mountain and reached into our house, we were awakened to Nicole singing her song. The last verse ended with a list of her friends and the most lovely line: “I have all my new friends, and I’m really, really happy!” In the dawn’s gentle light, my heart burst out in a song of its own.
Today at lunchtime, I asked Niki about her progress toward finishing her meal. “Sweetie, are you eating your veggies?” I asked. Grinning, she held up a piece of cauliflower and blessed me with one of those classic, little child jokes, “Mommy, Adios Coliflor!”