They squint their eyes to the sun as they file out of the classroom and onto the blacktop. About 20 first-graders form a line, like ants in a squiggly row on their way to a sweet treat. School is out for the day, and it’s time for the transition to home or daycare or extracurricular activities. I wait among the other parents, mingling and scrolling through their phones, making small talk or catching up on social media. I wonder what they will do when they get home. Do they worry about their children as much as I worry about mine? Do they pray for their children to be safe, to feel loved and respected? Do their children immediately spill over with details from their day at school, or do they hold back, as my daughter does?
The students excitedly clutch freshly hand-painted flowerpots and chat with their classmates. My daughter is one of the last to come out, as she usually is, nervously darting glances to see if I am there, using her arms to protectively cover up the surprise she has made for me.
I think she looks so anxious walking out the door. This is typical of her. Her cheeks are flushed, the rest of her face pale. The strain of being at school, holding herself together to have good behavior, shows in the shadows under her eyes. I know it is hard for her, my sensitive child, to be around so many other children, each with their own quirks and personalities. Her large blue eyes—Disney princess eyes, I call them—peek out from under the strands of dark hair that hang in her face, then back down at what she is carrying.
I wonder what her day was like. Did she have any friends play with her at recess today? Was she teased or bullied? Did she have enough to eat at lunchtime? Was she kind to someone who was lonely? My heart aches that I can’t be with her all day, can’t protect her from the barrage of emotional input that comes from attending school. She carries the sequence of the day in her mind, ruminating on what the other students say and do, quietly absorbing it and locking it in, only to break later at home when her emotions spill over and become too much for her to bear.
She stops and puts the flowerpot behind her back, pretending to hold nothing, looking at me boldly, daring me to fall for her ruse. She walks over to where I have been patiently standing, brother and sister in the double stroller, strapped down and eagerly awaiting their sister.
“Don’t look!” she instructs me.
“I’m not,” I say. Truly I don’t. I know what she carries, but I don’t peek at her design, at the details she meticulously painted. I’ll wait for the surprise to come later, to study what she’s done and exclaim over her artwork when she is ready for me to do so. I know she has a procedure in her mind, my little strategist, analyzing and planning how she is going to present it to me.
Her teacher follows the rest of the class down the ramp, herding the children as she walks. She notices us standing there, my daughter eyeing me as she tries to hide the flowerpot behind her back.
“Let’s put it in the stroller,” the teacher says to her, giving me a knowing glance, seeing a possible catastrophe and presenting a solution. I turn around and pretend not to notice this kind action, the teacher helping my sensitive child fulfill her plan of hiding the flower pot from my view. I know this is important to my daughter, and I want to respect her.
We walk down the sidewalk away from the school, flowerpot tucked safely in the basket of the stroller, brother and sister happy to be moving again. We stop and wait for cars to go by and she decides to carry the flowerpot again. She wants to hold it close to her and make sure it’s secure in her hands. She takes it out from under the stroller, grasping it with one hand in front of her. We start walking again, me pushing the stroller in front and her trailing behind. I glance behind me and remind her that I won’t look; she doesn’t have to worry.
We are on the sidewalk in front of the school, heading to the crosswalk, surrounded by kids rushing past and loading into cars. A loud “CRACK” behind me makes me whirl around.
My daughter’s hands are empty, clutching air, a look of shock in her wide eyes. On the ground is the pot, broken into pieces. The dirt and seeds that had been carefully poured inside are now a haphazard pile on top, the popsicle stick sign of the happy sunflower she had planted is fallen on its side. She freezes, then her face crumples and the tears come through red-rimmed eyes, and she sobs as I kneel and hold her. I choke back my own tears and comfort her through our embrace.
I let go of her to bend down and retrieve the pieces of the pot, digging through the dirt for each precious one. She stands and watches, sniffling and not sure what to do. A mom who was walking with us hands us some baggies to put the pieces in. An older boy heard the crack of the pottery and rushed in to help. We carefully place the fragments in the baggie and filter the dirt through our fingers to make sure we didn’t miss any. The mom hands us another baggie and I scoop up the dirt, seeds mingled in. I put the baggie of dirt, the broken pot, and the wayward popsicle stick sign under the stroller and continue the walk home, my daughter trailing forlornly behind.
I unload the younger two from the stroller and usher them inside the house. My daughter goes in to put her backpack away, and I lay out the baggies on the kitchen counter. I retrieve the glue gun from the craft closet and plug it in.
“Let’s see if we can glue the pieces back together,” I say. I know she is still upset. I am too.
“I have another pot if you want to paint that instead,” I suggest. I show her the other flowerpots I have, not exactly the same, but we can make one work.
We pull the pieces out of the baggie, one by one, and line them up on the counter. I can see the detail she put into it, the pattern she carefully thought out. A pattern of pink and blue, then red and green, little flowers with bright yellow centers.
She picks up pieces and turns them this way and that, lining up the ones that go next to each other. It’s a ceramic puzzle, and I talk to her about each piece as we examine them.
“I like the pattern you made here. What made you decide on these colors?” The glue gun is ready, and I carefully squeeze out the glue as she hands me the pieces that fit. We work together, her picking through the shattered pieces as I hold and glue them.
The flowerpot is back in one piece, and together we analyze our work. The evidence of its unfortunate demise is noticeable in numerous cracks oozing with glue, some pieces overlapping, others jutting out at odd angles where we struggled to force them back to the way they were, back to being whole.
“I think I’ll take one of your flowerpots,” she says. I give one to her and she escapes to her room, taking the baggie of dirt and seeds and the sunflower sign with her. I can tell she is forming a new plan in her head, moving on from what felt like a tragedy earlier. I am thankful she is resilient, that she let me help her rebuild her creation instead of giving up or shutting me out.
I place the flowerpot in the windowsill in the kitchen, planting an African violet that will soon display vibrant purple flowers amid soft green leaves. It sits perfectly in that cracked flowerpot, a place of prominence in front of the kitchen sink. I see it every day and am reminded that plans are fragile, that accidents happen, but we can work together to put things together in a new way or come up with a new plan.
I pray for my daughter as I wash little hands under the faucet or water plants on the windowsill. Standing at the sink, looking at the African violet that blooms gracefully in the cracked flowerpot, I pray for her as she is in school. I pray she will have strength to be true to herself, that she can mature and bloom no matter what might break as she grows. I pray she will share her thoughts with me, that she knows I will always be there to help her pick up the pieces, even though I know someday she will figure it out by herself, and so I pray she feels the joy and peace that come when strong roots grow from cracks and buds sprout from broken pieces.
Guest post written by Beth Robinson. Beth resides in Northern California with her husband and three children. She was a teacher before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Her children will tell you her favorite things are Reese’s peanut butter cups and her family, most likely in that order. She can often be found reading, writing, gardening, or traveling. She has written for BabyCenter, Parent.co, Tribe Magazine, and spontaneously blogs at My Pregnancy and Beyond.