How to feel

By Mir
January 6, 2009

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?”

She nodded.

“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?”

“Not really.”

“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.


  1. RuthWells

    Heartbreaking. You’re such a good Momma.

  2. Megan

    Don’t know what to say. I had just that talk with Child 1, my darling Child who that particular year was so vulnerable to the manipulations of her Queen Bee friend. But this, this extra burden and difficulty – good for Chickadee for SAYING that she doesn’t know how to feel, and good for you for letting her know that this is okay, that things are complicated – that sometimes there is no really clear path. I will think about Nightingale – a little girl I don’t know, and hope… well, just hope. Hope hard.

  3. Sheila

    This cuts right to the heart of our very worst fears, doesn’t it? I’ll pray for strength for Nightingale and her family, and for consolation for you and Chickadee.

  4. Kristi

    You say and do the perfect things.

    Sending my thoughts to ALL of you.

  5. Marissa

    You’re amazing. I am filing that your little talk away until the day comes I need to have it with my son.

    I will keep Nightingale in my prayers.

  6. Tammy

    Prayers said Mir.

  7. Lori

    My daughter had a brain tumor and while I’m not sure it directly impacted her personality, it did make her feel sick. And as we all know, when we’re sick, we’re crabby. Regardless, I am so impressed with the open dialogue you share with Chickadee. Your advice was spot on even when you didn’t know the whole picture. Good job mama!

    Cancer sucks. There’s no other way to say it. I’m praying for Nightingale and her family.

  8. Monica

    I think it’s probably harder on Chickadee in this situation than it would have been last year :( Confusion on top of heartbreak is a lot to handle for anyone, let alone a young girl. She’s lucky she’s got such an awesome Mom to talk it through with.

  9. Melissa

    Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. You are fantastic though. My thoughts are with you all.

  10. Karen

    I had similar talks with my kids when they were growing up, the”make up or move on” talk is what I called it. The “if you are getting nothing but grief from this relationship, even if you have been best friends since kindergarten, sometimes things change too much” talk. And sometimes it was really easy to walk away and sometimes it was not.

    I also tried to convey to my kids that sometimes there was something else going in a person’s life that made them act different, and we could not always tell if that person was mad at us, or mad at life, and we just happened to be the one standing there. It happens all the time, but some of us are better able to see through the darkness than others.

    It could be that Nightingale knew something was wrong with her, and was pulling away from those people she loves so as not to hurt so herself much at the thought of hurting them. That happens sometimes, too. I just can’t imagine a little girl who has been through all that Nightingale has been through being mean on purpose.

  11. MomCat

    Prayers and kind thoughts for Nightingale’s recovery, as well as Chickadee’s conflicted heart. God Bless them both.

  12. Anna

    Oh, such sadness. I popped in here almost directly from another blogger who is going to lose a child. No doubt. *sigh* Off to hug my kids.

  13. Leandra

    Oh, poor Nightingale. And poor Chickie. I will pray for both of them

  14. catherino

    Cancer does suck. It sucks especially hard in children. My son is a neuroblastoma survivor, diagnosed when he was 2 days old. Nightingale will be in my prayers, as well as Chickadee.

  15. Katie in MA

    Huh. Nightingale, a beautiful songbird who fills the world with his song during the dark of night. Also a nurse who healed many a wound. Okay, I might be stretching a bit with the metaphors, but I think it’s a sign.

    I will send prayers for healing and thoughts of strength to both of the girls. And to you, to help Chickie through such a tough situation.

  16. elizabeth

    you give the best mom talks. wish I had that gift.
    thoughts and prayers for all of you.

  17. Karen

    Like a freak I am at my desk, eating lunch and crying for these girls. At their ages this not a problem either of them should have to face.

    I will keep Nightingale and her family in my prayers – as well as Chickie.

  18. Wendy 2

    Oh no, I will be praying for Nightingale.

    I wish I had read about your little talk when my oldest was having similar problems. You stated it so much better than I did. Although I must have gotten my point across, as the two girls are casual friends at best, with the other one still getting angry at my daughter every once in a while. It doesn’t bother her much anymore, thank goodness. However, we did have the discussion about not knowing how to feel when a girl she isn’t exactly friends with, and has often had conflicts with, lost her father a year or two ago. Even if you don’t get along with someone, you don’t wish that on anyone and can still pray for them.

    I certainly admire the relationship you have with your children.

  19. exile on mom street

    My prayers for Nightingale have been whispered.

    I simply can’t speak about such things in a louder voice, but I know that the Universe has a marvelous ability to listen.

    Kinda like you Mir.

  20. Angela

    Oh wow. What a terrible thing to have to deal with. My heart goes out to all of you. My prayers go out to Nightingale and her family. I love the way you handled the situation. I’m so proud of Chickadee for being able to verbalize her confusion. You’re doing an amazing job. So… I’m sobbing now, and am off to give my own little ones the biggest hugs I can.

  21. liz

    Oh, this makes me so sad. I didn’t read the other responses, so someone else might have mentioned this. Isn’t it possible that Nightingale deliberately pushed away the people that she’s closest to? For any number of reasons…(1) they’re people she SHOULD be able to discuss her health problems with. (2) not making it, as loathe as I am to say this, is a definite possibility and she doesn’t want to be close to someone and that person lose her?

    Off to work and cry and pray…

  22. TC

    We’ve been having almost the EXACT SAME talks around here, regarding Em’s BFF who is so much Forever any more, it seems. She’s a difficult child. We’re lucky, though, in that there are fewer complicating factors involved. Reasons to be understanding of the nastiness and undermining, but nothing like this. Leukemia and brain tumors in a 10-year-old? Good god. That is some tough stuff. As always, though, you rose to the occasion. Know that we’re all proud of you…and Chickie…and praying in our own ways for Nightingale.

  23. Lucinda

    Prayers for Nightingale, of course. Prayers for Chickadee too. Again, I only hope I can handle tough situations with my daughter with the same grace you do with yours.

  24. el-e-e

    Oh, that is just awful. So sorry to hear about Nightingale. Add my prayers to the list. Thanks for letting us know.

  25. Aimee

    Oh. Oh no. I will definitely say a prayer for Nightingale, and for Chickadee, too. What a confusing, tricky situation. It’s definitely not unheard of for a brain tumor to change behavior. I had a client, four years ago, who had one. Before she was diagnosed my boss and I had several conversations about her altered behavior and short temper. It was like night and day. She went from being almost freakishly laid back — like, NOTHING could rattle this woman — to having the shortest fuse imaginable.

    I hope that Nightingale recovers, and that everything else works out in a way that’s best for Chickadee.

  26. barbara

    OK Mir…that’s 2 days in a row I’ve been crying at the end of your post….

  27. Flea

    Thank you for sharing Nightingale and your Chickadee with us. I’ll pray. For you all, but especially Nightingale and her family.

  28. paige

    I will be holding Chickadee and Nightingale in my prayers.

  29. Jen

    Ah, you make me cry again. Both good and bad. We will keep Nightengale in our thoughts!

  30. Barbara


  31. Melinda

    You’ve touched a lot of people with this story, Mir. I am certainly holding her in my thoughts and prayers.

  32. momzen

    Prayers for Nightengale. And prayers for Chickadee too. Your ability to talk to your kids (and then write about it!) is awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  33. Leanne

    Teardrops sitting on the letter “T” and “F” (apparently they’re dropping faster from the left side of my face.)

    Mir, thank you for sharing Nightingale. I will be praying for her, and for the strength that Chickadee needs to sort things out right now, too. So hard for little ones to process these situations sometimes, but wow, did she luck out in the Mama department.

  34. Foodie

    Oh sweetie. Huuuuuuuugggggggggggggg to both of you.

  35. andi

    Lots of prayers for Nightingale and her family and friends.

  36. Melisa

    *sigh* You may not know how to feel, but you’re like some kind of genius with the words.

  37. Keyona

    Ughh, I hate when bad things happen to children. Chickadee will figure it out, with your help of course. In the meantime, me and my family will add Nightingale in our prayers….

  38. Walking In My Sleep

    My only hope if I ever face a similar situation is that I find your wisdom in *my* words. Chickadee is in good hands, and is fortunate to have you for her mother.

  39. Sarah

    wow. i’ll be praying for nightingale! thank you so much for sharing your incredibly wise words! they may be used again in my household.

  40. annette

    I will pray. I will pray especially for peace in everyone’s heart while they are enduring this suffering.

  41. Debbi

    I’ll be keeping Nightingale (and her family) in my thoughts. And your little one too, this is hard for adults to handle…I can’t imagine what is going through Chickadees mind. I love how honest she is. Give her an extra hug today. You are a wonderful mama!

  42. Randi

    I so hope that Nightingale is doing well, and that she heals and lives a long, filling life. And I also hope that chickadee realizes how special it is to have a mom like you.

  43. pam

    Oh darling Mir. You’re such a good mother. Chickadee is so lucky to have you for a mama. Prayers for Nightingale sent and will be resent.

  44. margie

    oh my, i know so well those types of issues. i remember very well when my first husband passed away, my youngest son, then 9 years old, had a good friend, a girl, who lived just down the street. they went to camp together, hebrew school together, they were good friends. then one day in the middle of a tiff, she yelled at him that she was glad his dad had died. it took me days to find out what had happened and i actually only found out from the little girl’s mother, who called and asked that i participate in brokering a peace treaty between the kids. i said no. i said that i felt she had to earn his friendship again on her own. after a year of not speaking they mended fences and at nineteen are still friends. hard to know what to do. take care. give that little girl a hug. none of this is her fault. she had no way of knowing that her friend was ill, just as you didn’t know.

  45. Camels & Chocolate

    That was poignant and heartbreaking and a whole lot of other thing. But dammit, woman, you are one excellent mother. That part’s for certain.

  46. Ramblin'Red

    Mir, honey, I would have offered prayers up if it were only tween angst without any life complications thrown in – as there are serious complications, you can bet I’ll talk with the big guy.

    Parenting is so hard, isn’t it? You are an excellent mother and the talk you had with Chickie at the onset of this is just as telling as the talk you had with her about how to feel.


  47. nil zed

    I know how chickadee feels. My dad, who was never in your dad’s league anyway, but has been steadily more awkward & disagreeable for the last few years. Or maybe longer. He’s recently been diagnosed with dementia. I keep thinking of instances further and further back that I thought were OTT, even for him & wondering if each situation was the early stages.

    Our relationship was shredded 20 years ago & his further behaviour reinforced my confidence I’d made the right decision. But now. I dunno. I just don’t know.

    Poor girls. Prayers for both

  48. Dawn

    Wow. I think you handled this situation with incredible skill.

    Poor Chickie.

    And poor Nightingale and family. Such a tough situation.

    The big guy will be hearing from me.

  49. jennielynn

    You’re handling a tough situation with a lot of grace and guiding Chickie through it as well. Your children are very lucky in their mother. And their step-father.

  50. angela

    I think even if the brain tumor wasn’t affecting behavior that the brain tumor was affecting behavior. I’ve had health problems for a few years and they are now to the point that I’m angry and depressed about it. It affects my attitude and how I deal (badly) with things. It is not an excuse but does help explain things. I really like how your balancing being a friend and protecting yourself. That’s so important. I like that its been recognized that if this had happened whenever it would have been less confusing. And I think that if Chickadee expresses interest in seeing Nightingale then that could be a good thing to do too. Good luck

  51. Crisanne

    Prayers for all of you. Thank you for trusting us enough to ask us to help out the best way we can. And thanks for sharing the tough moments so that we may all learn to be better parents through you!

  52. just beaux

    What a sad and difficult situation. I could not stop crying. What makes things worse is your daughter is trying to make sense of the situation at such a young age. I will certainly say a pray for everybody involved.

  53. Lisa- Domestic Accident

    Every time I hear about a child battling for her life or dealing with something a child should not deal with, I have to thank god my kids are healthy. This kid is in my prayers.

  54. susie

    Friendships at that age are so difficult to navigate even when everyone feels well. I hope this story unfolds into a happy ending for everyone.

  55. k-ma

    this might just be one of my favorite posts of yours, mir. it’s absolutely beautiful, and so completely heartbreaking. poor nightingale, to have to fight this. there’s no worse tragedy than a child fighting for her life, when they probably don’t even truly know what’s happening to them. she’s in my payers, and there will surely be a little postscript for chickadee, that she will be able to come to terms with the situation herself.

  56. Beth in IA

    Tears, check. Prayers said, check. Off to hug my kids, check.

  57. O.G.

    What incredibly good parenting. You could be a relationship counselor. That’s a tough situation to handle for anybody let alone a child.

  58. Kath

    and then life hits you, hard
    you’re an amazing woman raising an amazing daughter.

  59. Heather

    Oh Mir. I’m sorry. She will be in my prayers.

  60. chris

    Oh man. As a mother it is heartbreaking to imagine a sick child. I will keep Nightingale (and Chickadee) in my thoughts.

  61. Sharon

    I think you dealt with that beautifully. You’re a great mom.

  62. AmandafromMaine

    Prayers and love to Nightingale and Chickadee…..

    The horror of having a child stricken with cancer is unspeakable……

    You will all pull through

  63. Susan

    Adding my prayers for Nightengale and for Chickadee, too.

  64. Andrea

    I will definitely be sending my prayers and love to Nightingale. It is always difficult, no matter how young or old, to hear of a friend or acquaintance who is going through an illness. You have an amazing way with your children and communicating with them in an age appropriate way. I both admire and envy that ability in you.

  65. ben

    Wow, very touching. You’re an awesome mom.

  66. Chris

    I bookmarked your site many months ago, came across the link tonight, and decided to visit. Thank God because I am going to have to craft a similar talk with my daughter tonight because of a “BFF” who is not such a BFF anymore. I am going to copy you (thank you!), and I will definitely keep these girls in my prayers.

  67. Deborah P

    Praying for both of them and for wisdom for you in deaing with it all.

  68. Half Assed Kitchen

    Oh, that poor family. And poor Chickadee. It’s hard enough to know how to feel when you’re a “tween” without dreadful things like brain tumors affecting things.

    Sounds like you did and said all the right things.

  69. Stephanie

    You are a wonderful mother, Mir. Chickadee is lucky to have you. My heart hurts for Nightingale and I will be hoping for a total and complete recovery for her.

  70. Caroline in MA

    ok. i’m sitting here with tears in my eyes… you’re awesome, Mir… no doubt about it. Chickadee oh sweet little girl… of course she’s confused! She’s so lucky to have you for her mama… and Nightingale will be in my thoughts and prayers continuously, as you all will…

    God Bless…

  71. crockpot lady

    all are in my thoughts.
    you are oh so wonderful.

  72. FringeGirl

    Oh, that was such a sad story. I feel so badly for both girls…how confused and emotional they must be. They will be in my thoughts and prayers. It’s not easy for adults to handle something of this magnitude, and it must just terrible for children.

  73. becky

    oh my. being a kid is so hard as it is. i can’t imagine worrying about this on top of everything else. that little girl and her family (and your chickie) will be in my thoughts.

  74. crazyjane

    my daughter had a brain malformation that caused her headaches for her first 3 years. she had 2 separate personalities depending on how she felt from moment to moment. her second personality was lucy, short for lucifer. fairly unpleasant. (this is what made me crazyjane!)
    she had corrective surgery at 3 years old and was a completely different person afterwards. she is now 6 years old and we have not seen lucy in 3 years. while not a tumor, seems like its in the same realm and possibly caused the change in nightengale. i’m praying all is going to be well with her. and chickie is very lucky to have such a wise mom.

  75. Cele

    Your last paragraphs say everything. Thank you, God bless Nightengale and Chickedee, too.

  76. Stacy

    Mir –

    Praying for Nightingale. I remember those years when you’re best friends one day and squabbling kids the next – it isn’t easy.

    Explaining major health issues to any kid is so difficult. My son had a liver transplant when he was 10 months old. Our world is filled with other kids who have had transplants – and sadly, some of those kids don’t do well and some of those kids don’t make it. I think the understanding and compassion they get from being exposed to a sick friend / sibling / self, is tremendous.

  77. Kailani

    Saying Prayers for Nightingale for speedy healing. And also to continue to be blessed with good people like you and Chickie. Prayers also for Chickadee….this is such a young age to be faced with mortality and the WHYs of life.

    Great open dialogue! You are raising some really great grownups!

  78. Jessica (from It's my life...)

    Oh wow. That poor little girl and her poor mother. I’m keeping her in my thoughts.

    And what you said to Chickadee about the two things about friendship. Thank you. I knew it, but I needed to read it from someone else too. I had a friend I tried to stick by because I knew things weren’t going well for her, but it got to the point where she was hurting me more than I was doing her good and I had to call it quits. I’ve felt bad about that for a long time.

    Sending you all hugs.

  79. BonnaRenee

    Health concerns are never easy at any age. Not knowing how to feel is normal; not knowing what to say is normal as well. As an adult, I still do not know how to handle such situations. Sometimes words are not necessary. Just being there sometimes is enough. Nightingale may not even realize that her behavior was different towards Chickadee. I will keep both girls in my prayers and I hope that all goes well for everyone.

  80. lettergirl

    Ouch, Mir. That makes me cry. Good for Chickadee for sorting out her feelings, and we will say a prayer for Nightengale.

  81. Lisse

    I too made the immediate link between the tumor and change in behavior, but also hormonal (and resulting social) changes that we normally see in middle school but can begin as early as 10 yrs old – seems to be much worse for girls.

    Poor girl. Prayers for her recovery.

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