I wasn't ready for it. After all, she's only just turned 8. And what 8-year-old do you know who's called an after-dinner meeting to tell you gently but categorically that "it's just not working anymore"? That she "can't stand another day of living in your house"? That she's leaving.
I had to choke back my urge to giggle, but I realized from the look in her face she was deadly serious. The reality of her decision had been weighed up. She fully believed this was the only way forward. She didn't want to hurt my feelings, but enough was enough. She would be going to Tom's family; she knew the way, (even in the dark, she reckoned). She would ask them if she could go and live with them.
I sat beside her at the top of the stairs, blue cotton tunic, socks slouched at the ankles, shirt all squiff, muzzy twists of blonde hair framing her determined face. I asked what she would say when Tom's family asked why she'd come. It was clearly explained that though she knew exactly what she'd say, she wouldn't be telling me because it would make me very sad.
So that was it. My little girl was leaving home. She had a plan, well thought through. She'd see me on Sundays so I didn't have to worry that I'd never see her again. She thought that was fair.
It landed all the more heavily because I was an hour away from meeting with a church couple who were in a similar bags-packed-and-leaving crisis. I was expecting to hear this depth of emotion from them. I was expecting to have to navigate the journey forward with adults, not my own daughter. I asked faltering questions, using all the skills that I would usually employ in unpacking marital disharmony. It felt awkwardly familiar. Right tools, but unfamiliar territory. Digging, adapting, sifting, brushing away the soil defenses, like a rooky archeologist unearthing something long buried, precious, breathtakingly fragile. Exhibit A: Hurt over harsh words. Exhibit B: Habitual "talk-fighting" with sibling. Exhibit C: Church people are more important than me.
Dear God, how did I not notice?
After an emergency strategy meeting with her wise and cool-headed father, we took the conversation in two directions. He with our son on the stripy sofa, me with our daughter on her unmade bed. Then quietly out of the ground whispered Exhibit D: It's me that's the problem...Exhibit E: If I go it will all be better...Exhibit F: I don't feel special in this family...
With the words of my hubby ringing in my ears, I articulated our unspoken mantra: "We're family. Family means we need each other. Family means we don't walk away, we work it out. Family means even if it's tricky, we talk to each other, we stick with each other. Family means we say sorry and please and thank you. Family means we're honest, even when it's easier not to be."