“Don’t go!”

Eliana wailed into the night. Her father was over for an impromptu visit, invited by his little girl, who missed him.

But it was past bedtime. She clung to his neck in the drawn-shade darkness of her pink room. Over and over she pleaded, don’t go, don’t go.

He rocked her on his lap. His eyebrows arced and having been married to him for eight years, I knew what he was thinking: I am a failure. 

Finally, I peeled my girl from his arms and he stepped out of the room. She sobbed and threw her arms around me. I lay with her in the almost-dark, shhhing her sobs, stroking her soft arm.

Until then, Eliana had seemed silently affected by our divorce. She missed her father and often took items from my house to keep at his house. I think she felt badly that he has so little of her life.

But she didn’t seem angst-riddled in any way. She merely moved through the hours along her routine, hiding behind my legs in uncertain situations. Nothing unusual for a 4-year-old.

That night, she cried off and on for more than an hour and the next morning, she was subdued on the couch before cartoons. My grandmother came in the afternoon and remarked, “She’s just not herself today.”

And then everything evaporated. Eliana wore the most original, honest smile. She hugged me again and again, a true-loving kind of hug rather than a desperate clingy one. She helped set the dinner table without complaining. She was a treasure to be around. And best of all, she seemed infinitely happy.

I could brush her hair without shrieks. When I said it was time for bed, she went. And except for running into my room in the night and exclaiming, “I want Abba!”, she seemed different than she had for the entire year prior.

Maybe all she needed was to let the waterfall of emotions cascade over and then she could breathe again. All this time, she’d played the I’m-ok game when really, she had bottled up her need to feel.

Whatever let it loose, I’m so glad it did. It’s amazing to watch a transformation – from sullen, side-stepping little girl to sweet, eager, and happy.

Eliana’s birth was the easiest but raising her has been my biggest challenge. She slipped out into the early morning and I had to ask how many pushes it took. Two. My little peanut lay on the birth-center bed beside me, snuggled up close like she does every night still. I don’t believe I’m rewriting history when I remember smiling most of the way through her birth.

I should remember that as we tread forward. Every day a new challenge, and a new opportunity to love her well.

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