Hadley won’t respond to her sister. She just shakes her head and stares at the door, waiting.
“Girls,” I say, offering a hand to each of them. Harper accepts, Hadley flinches, then clasps her hands together. “I know you’re scared but it’ll be over soon and I’ll buy you a chocolate milk as soon as we’re done.”
“Chocolate milk!” Harper immediately brightens up. “Hadwee! Mommy said she’s going to buy us chocolate milk!”
“Don’t talk about it, “Hadley says as she fights a smile.
I’m confused. “Why not? I’m trying to cheer you up.”
“I don’t want to be cheered up. I don’t want you to make me smile, or laugh or anything. Just don’t talk about good things right now.” Hadley crosses her arms and holds them against herself.
“Alright,” I say and take a seat. It hurts me that I can’t do anything for Hadley right now, but I’m intrigued by her behavior. She seems to want to sit with this fear, let it surround her until it’s all she is focusing on, despite how uncomfortable it makes her. My 5 year old is almost embracing fear more than she is confronting it. I watch her sit motionless, staring at the door, her forehead wrinkled in concentration, and I wonder about all the effort this is taking for Hadley to fill herself up with fear, leaving room for nothing else.
The nurse comes in and that’s when Hadley seems to unravel. She starts to scream. Not just a complaining whimper, but a full on infant-like wail. I’m so confused by her behavior because Hadley never acts this way. Next to her father she’s the most rational person I know. This kind of screaming is what I expect from Harper and myself. Not Hadley.
Harper goes first and cries though she’s barely heard over her older sister. When it’s Hadley’s turn I can barely hold her on my lap. She is screaming so loud and pushing against me that the nurse asks me if I want help.
“No,” I say and now I’m crying because I’ve taken offense to what the nurse seems to have observed. That is, that I can’t take care of my girl. I can’t make her happy. I should be able to comfort her, I think. Clearly I cannot, but I hold on to her as best I can while she howls.
When it’s over, the three of us are walking out of the doctor’s office, this time Hadley allows her hand to be held.
“Do you want to know why I was screaming, Mama?” Hadley looks up at me as she asks. She is back to her cheerful, bright eyed self.
“Because you were scared?”
“Well, yes, but that’s not why I screamed. I screamed so I could be brave.”
“So you could be brave?”
“Yeah. The louder I screamed, the braver I got.”
We walk outside and Hadley says, “It helps to scream,” and in the same breath, “Did you say something about chocolate milk?”
We are back to talking about the good things: chocolate milk, coffee, driving with the windows down and stopping by the park on the way home. These are lovely things to think about but my daughter showed me that she can handle the scary things, too. She showed me this afternoon that in fact I might not always be able to comfort her. But that’s OK.
She knows how to be brave.