The classroom was pierced by an earsplitting shriek, “Get him off me!” My daughter’s pleas drowned out the song that had been playing peacefully in the background a moment ago: “The wheels on the bus go round and round…”
Jocelyn held her arm out to the side like a falconer awaiting the landing of a prized bird, the little boy, Caleb’s, sharp, pearly teeth still imbedded in her flesh. She looked at me; hazel eyes round with surprise and pain, and something else—incomprehension. I knew that look.
I coaxed the boy’s teeth from her arm with a gentle finger, and my chest welled with anger and indignation at the boy’s assault.
No one was allowed to hurt my little girl.
“Ms. Pam, could you please bring a cold, soapy cloth?” I said, my voice sharp. My eyes sharper indicated: Get that demon under control.
Ms. Pam, the fives teacher rushed to do my bidding as I enveloped my daughter in my arms. She didn’t cry, just allowed me to cuddle her for a moment. When I pulled her back to look at her, the same confused look remained stationary on her round face. I struggled to dampen my anger, lest I scare her.
When Jocelyn was born, I quickly discovered she was different. She didn’t scream, didn’t hit or throw tantrums like other babies and toddlers I’d known, her temperament stayed even under the most chaotic of situations. She pet babies and puppies with equal gentleness and tucked stuffed animals into elaborate, plush cradles. Jocelyn flinched at the slightest increase in tone from child and adult alike, and she wilted at the sight of a dead bug.
Once – when she could barely speak – she demanded in her quiet way that I follow her to the corner of our living room. She showed me a deceased gecko. Tears fell and caught in her curls as she pointed and struggled to understand its death and why our cat Soot had killed it. I attempted to explain predator instincts and mortality to a toddler as we lay it to rest in the proper, respectful way – a shoebox burial and a hand-painted, stone grave-marker.
A few days later my daughter’s best toddler friend hit her. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when Jocelyn told me about it, the friend lied and said Jocelyn had hit her. Of course I had seen the exchange and knew who was telling the truth, but Jocelyn’s face after hearing this lie did not hold just anger and betrayal – rather surprise and perplexity.
“Now girls, we don’t hit and we don’t lie.” When these “incidents” occurred at my home, I always addressed both children so the other mother didn’t feel I was biased in the serious duty of Administration of Discipline. “I – I don’t know why she hit me. Why she do that, Mommy? Why she say I hit?” Jocelyn’s squished brow and questions slayed me.
I was at a loss then, as I am on this day – the day her precious flesh has been marred by Caleb’s angry gnashers – as to how to explain violence and anger to a being who has none. How to explain wanting her toy was reason enough for Caleb to hurt her? That people would go on hurting her for the rest of her life.
The same face turns toward me for answers, the same eyes bore into me through thick, black lashes, the question lingers in those eyes. Larger eyes, taller frame, but the chubbiness still clings to the arms and legs, though it is stretching, becoming harder to see. The innocence and gentleness has not gone from her. Not yet. I send up a prayer of thanksgiving. She hasn’t lost it yet.
Soon she will understand. Soon she will comprehend why little boys bite and little girls hit and lie; why people yell, and geckos are killed by predatory cats… Soon she will build a shell to protect herself from the ugliness of the world. The innocence and gentle heart my little girl held onto longer than most, will be lost forever.