“Taylor, what’s wrong? Have I done something that makes you uncomfortable talking to me?”
Last night, Taylor and I put the boys to bed and we were home alone for a couple hours. She was busying herself with stuff almost like she was avoiding me.
“Tay, what are you doing?” I asked.
“Just looking at some photo albums.” She replied.
After she was done doing that, she would bounce immediately to something else.
“Dad, can I use your computer to play a game?” She asked.
“Sure, just make sure you plug it in ‘cause the battery is low.” I replied.
This is when I noticed a more pronounced isolation from my presence. She took the computer into another room and closed the door. A lot of times she will open the laptop and sit next to me or lean against the wall in the same room, but she clearly wanted to be apart from me. Not wanting to force her to be with me, I checked in on her to make sure she was ok. Of course, she said she was just fine.
I noticed her open the door to the piano room and as she was closing the door behind her I couldn’t help but engage.
“Are you practicing piano, Tay?” I asked.
“No, I’m writing a letter.” She replied. (not usual)
“Who are you writing a letter to?” I asked.
“I’m just writing a letter to Mommy.” She replied.
“Oh, what for?” I asked.
“I dunno’, I just wanted to write something to her.” She replied.
And with that, she closed the door behind her and came out 15 minutes later with a closed envelope scurrying away so that I didn’t have time to ask her a question…almost like she sealed it so I wouldn’t be able to ask her if I could read it. She was over in the living room area mindlessly loitering.
“Hey, you wanna’ play a game with me on the bed?” I asked.
“Sure.” She replied.
About a minute later she came in with a wicker basket full of card games. As she hoisted it up on the bed I could see in her eyes a distance that concerned me. It is the kind of glazed look she has when she’s thinking hard about something and is carried away with her colliding thoughts.
“Is everything ok, Tay?” I asked.
“Yeah.” She replied.
“What did you write your mom about?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing much…it didn’t really come together that good.” She replied.
“So did you not write the letter?” I asked.
“No, I did…It just wasn’t very good and it didn’t make sense.” She replied.
The more she talked, the more nervous energy she emitted. It was actually making me feel awkward even being with her one-on-one, something I never feel with my daughters and never want to feel with them if I can help it.
“So what did you write her about even though it didn’t come together like you wanted?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing much. Can we play a game?” She replied.
At that point, I knew she didn’t want to talk to me about something that was absolutely overtaking her mind. I knew I had to proceed gingerly and stealthily into her tender and timid soul. Honestly, I didn’t know what to ask, but I just knew we needed to talk even though I could tell she didn’t want to talk to me. It was hurtful to my heart to see her resistance to my pursuit, but it was even more painful to watch her hold in her feelings and put on an act in my presence because she was embarrassed to “go there” with me.
“Tay, were you writing Mom about sleeping in our room?” I asked.
The emotions and tears just detonated and she covered her face in what appeared to be shame. I began to speak to her heart.
“Tay, I don’t know why you feel like you can’t talk to me or be with me when you’re feeling afraid. Have I done something to hurt your feelings in the past?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so.” She replied.
“I would like to believe that, but I don’t understand why you avoid opening your heart to me when you know that I love you, cuddle you, support you, and will always protect you. Are you sure I didn’t do something to hurt your feelings?” I asked again.
“Well, one time you got mad at me when I told you to stop laughing so loud in the movie theater.” She replied.
It’s amazing to me that things that seem so small and insignificant can lodge into a child’s heart and crawl into other areas of emotional entanglement.
“Well I’m very sorry for getting mad at your for that. Will you forgive me?” I asked.
“Yes. I forgive you.” She replied.
“Can you think of anything else I’ve done to make you feel embarrassed to talk to me about your fears or your feelings?” I asked.
“Not really. Well, there are sometimes I feel like you get frustrated with me that I’m sleeping on your floor and I’m scared that you’re mad at me.” She replied.
“I think we need to make sure that you understand the difference between frustration and anger. I don’t feel anger toward you, I feel frustrated for you that you don’t feel free…I want to help you get free. Do you understand the difference?” I asked.
She nodded while still trying to keep me from seeing her cry.
I began to talk to her about my love for her and how I long to be close to her. I told her that I didn’t feel bad that she talked to mom about her fears and feelings, but that she could always come to me at any time and say, “Dad, can I talk to you about something?” and that I would stop whatever I was doing and listen to her. I told her that I cared deeply and that I understood her feelings to some degree and didn’t want her to feel embarrassed for any thoughts or emotions she felt with me. I told her that I have tons of emotions and ideas and conflicts bouncing around in my head and understand what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and scared sometimes.
The longer we talked, the more relaxed her facial muscles were. I almost felt like I watched her pupils change as her eyes widened and looked up where the light was looking square into my eyes. I didn’t want to stay too long in “serious” conversation and “wear out my welcome” so I said, “Let’s play a game.”
She picked the “Do I REALLY know you” (or something like that) game where you pick a stick that makes a statement where the other person has to guess how you would answer it. It was a perfect game following our conversation because it confirmed that we know each other and care about each other very well. Every time we would guess the other person’s likes or dislikes, favorites or non-favorites, Taylor would say something like, “We know each other pretty well, don’t we?” I would respond with something like, “What do you expect, I’m your dad?”
When the game ended I was laying down on my stomach with my face pointed toward the end of bed. Tay came over and laid down next to me facing the same direction. I could hear that her sisters had just gotten home due to the stomping around upstairs, so I seized a moment before we were joined by the other princesses.
“I hope we will always be close to each other our whole lives.” I said softly.
Tay looked at me and said, “Oh, we will. It makes me sad when I see daughters that aren’t close to their daddy’s and it makes me glad that you’re my dad cause I know we’ll always be close.”
Just then, the door opened and her sisters came into the room.
“Tay, were you crying?” Aly asked.
Tay quickly responded: “Yeah, but dad and I got to talk…and it was good.”
Yes, it was very good.