I haven’t talked about Chickadee’s friend Nightingale this year, because somehow they’ve gone from being BFFs to just plain having a terrible time with each other. Glee at being reunited after a long, hard summer quickly turned into Chickadee coming home in a foul mood, sniping at everyone, and eventually dissolving into tears and relating some story that would involve Nightingale either taking something from her or demanding something, and then taunting her about it until Chickie tattled, at which point Nightingale would be furious with her.
I talked to her mom a couple of times, trying to get a feel for what might’ve changed. She was just as baffled as I was, and reported that Nightingale would often come home crying that Chickadee was mean to her. While I have no doubt that my darling daughter can give as good as she gets, the whole situation was just plain perplexing. It would get better for a while and then something would happen and Nightingale would stop speaking to Chickadee again. So I got to have my first Big Relationship Talk with my daughter.
We sat down a couple of months ago and talked it all out. Did she still want to be friends with Nightingale? Yes, she did, but she didn’t think Nightingale wanted to be friends with HER. Well, did she feel like it was no longer worth her effort to constantly keep trying to make up? She wasn’t sure.
“Chickadee,” I told her, “Nightingale has been a good friend to you for a long time. I don’t know what’s going on here. But what I can tell you is that what you’ve told me and what I’ve seen with her makes me think that she’s not very happy right now. I don’t know why. But I’m going to tell you two things, and both of them are true, even though they don’t seem to go together. Are you ready?”
“Okay, the first one is that I think you need to be very gentle and understanding with Nightingale right now.” She opened her mouth to protest, and I held up my hand to stop her. “I know. She isn’t being very nice. But what I’m telling you is that I think the not-niceness has to do with other stuff, and not with you. So I’m asking you to cut her some slack, because I think she needs it. And I think you do care for her, in spite of all of this.”
She nodded again. “What’s the second thing?”
I took a deep breath. “The second thing is that sometimes when people treat us badly, there comes a time when we have to say ‘no more.’ And this is why both of these things are important, even though they seem not to make sense together. I don’t want to find out you’ve been being mean to Nightingale, or engaging in any of this petty stuff where you two pick at each other until everyone’s miserable. And I am completely serious about that—if I hear you’ve been anything less than kind, you and I are going to have a problem. But if she doesn’t stop being mean to you, you still need to take care of YOU. And that may mean just quietly focusing your attention elsewhere. Does that make sense?”
“Okay, think of it this way. If it gets too hard, spend time with your other friends. Not meanly, not with a ‘Well I’m going to play with her instead of you!’ or anything, but just… quietly. When she’s mean, hang out with someone else. And if she decides to be nice, that’s great, but you can still choose to hang out with your other friends, more. If that’s what you need to do. Okay?”
She nodded, deep in thought.
After that talk, things seemed to even out. Chickadee had been casual friends with another girl, Pixie, and they worked on a project together and became closer. Soon it was Pixie this and Pixie that, and while she would answer my questions about Nightingale when I asked, she no longer seemed particularly bothered by her mood swings (which continued).
The week before Christmas break, Chickadee decided that she wanted to give some small gifts to some of her friends. We picked out some Lip Smackers (just as in the ancient days when I was a tween—before we were called tweens!—Lip Smackers are still valid currency amongst the XX set) and she set about writing out some cards for her friends. One for Pixie. One for Swan. One for another girl whose name I’d heard mentioned a few times.
“What about Nightingale?” I asked.
“What about her?” she answered, looking at me like I had three heads. “She’s mad at me. AGAIN.”
“It’s Christmas,” I said, trying to keep my voice mild. “I think it might be a nice gesture, if you still like her.”
“Okay,” she said, with a shrug that was supposed to let me know that really, she didn’t care one way or the other, and was just doing it because I’d suggested it. But I noticed she spent a long time on the card.
Nightingale was out sick that last day of school, so Chickadee gave the gift to Hawk and asked him to give it to her (their families spend a lot of time together).
One of the things I’d learned about Nightingale shortly after the girls became friends, last year, was that she was in remission from leukemia. She’d had a bone marrow transplant a year or two before and was doing well.
Yesterday I found out that Nightingale was having surgery for a newly-discovered brain tumor. (The surgery went well. It’s not clear, yet, what the diagnosis is or what this means.)
I confess that my first thought—after the initial shock and dismay of learning she’s facing this—was to wonder if the tumor may have affected her behavior. Even her mom had said she didn’t understand the changes in her this year. So maybe…? Or maybe not, in which case this child is someone who’s been not very nice to my kid, but still, my heart went out immediately and completely to this family. Regardless.
I spoke with some other moms, and I talked with Otto, and then I talked to the kids. I suggested they might like to make Nightingale some get well cards that we could mail to the hospital.
Monkey set to work immediately and with great concentration. There were pictures and heartfelt sentiments (“I was very sorry to hear that you are at the hospital. I hope you are feeling very better very soon.”) and he had a lot of questions about what’s going on, most of which I didn’t know the answers to.
Chickadee went up to her room and came back a while later with her card. “Don’t read it,” she said, thrusting it at me.
“Why not? Please?”
“No, I don’t want you to. Because.” She stood in front of me, arms folded. After a bit of cajoling, she agreed to let me read it “as long as you don’t say anything.”
So I read it and didn’t say anything. It was very… formal. She hoped Nightingale would feel better soon. From, Chickadee Lastname. You know, just in case Nightingale has a few OTHER friends named Chickadee.
She did not want to talk. I didn’t push it.
Last night at bedtime I kissed her and then said, “You know, honey… if you decide you want to talk about what’s going on with Nightingale… whenever, I mean… we can do that. I know it must be hard to know what to think, right now. And it’s okay to be scared. I’m scared for her.”
She yanked the covers up to her chin. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
I nodded, but didn’t leave.
“It’s just…” she started, bunching and unbunching the blankets, “I don’t know HOW to feel, Mom. If this had happened last year? I would’ve been so scared and worried. I would be begging you to take me to the hospital to see her. But this year? She doesn’t even LIKE me anymore, Mama. How am I supposed to feel?”
I blinked back tears. “I don’t know, sweetie. I think you’re supposed to feel exactly the way you do—confused. I know things have been hard for you two this year. But honey, that may have had something to do with the tumor. Or not. But either way, I know you don’t want her to be sick. And I know Nightingale could probably use all her friends right now.” She nodded, and looked away. “And even if you don’t know how to feel, you can still pray for her.” She nodded again, burrowing her head into the blankets. “Okay, honey. Get some sleep.”
If you have a little room in your prayers for Nightingale, please lift her up. I can’t tell my daughter what to feel. I’m not sure I even know what to feel. But I do believe this child came into our lives for a reason. And now I’m sharing her with you, because I’m hoping she’ll be around for a good long time.