Her plate sits before her and she worries over her dinner roll, tiny pieces dropping onto the table top. My own dinner has gone tasteless and I'm begging her to be honest because the words Liam drops among us can't possibly be true. These guilt crumbs gathering up and her picking picking picking but never speaking speaking speaking. I'm fighting for clarity over the situation because I am not the mother of a bully... could I be so naive?
"The principal had to talk to Noa today," and he tells it like it's juicy - like I'll reward him for his gossip - like I'll be pleased to hear it.
"Why?" and I hold up a finger to still Liam and look to her because this is her story to tell. "Why Noa?"
But she's broken. Like a doll who's pull-string is tangled and no matter how you fight and tug and persuade you can't even get it to whine out one little 'Ma-ma.'
The massacre of the dinner roll continues and her eyes can't land on mine and she bites at her lip and looks at the ceiling and I finally have to let Liam tell me because he's practically dancing with it. And he does. And I try to catch her glance but she's lost in the ceiling fan and it's like my throat is swollen and my neck is hot and I WILL NOT BE THE MOTHER OF A MEAN GIRL! "Is that what happened, Noa?"
Her gaze flits to me and far away again and she nods slowly and there are crumbs surrounding her plate like a picture frame and there is no bread left.
"Would you ever call someone ugly?" I ask.
She shakes her head.
"Would you ever call someone stupid?"
She shakes her head again.
"Noa, you can't ever call someone fat! That's just as hateful and cruel as ugly or stupid. Do you understand that? It's what a bully would say."
"You can never, never say something like that - it's so hurtful!"
It already been a hard day and I still have to face going back into town for worship practice and I feel every little bit of any wind I had left leave my sails and I slump back to my dinner and she still won't look at me.
The boys are already done eating and I excuse them. "You have to eat, Noa. We have to leave soon." And we eat in silence.
I finish first and fill the sink and rain is falling outside the kitchen window in huge sad splatters. She brings me her dishes. Silently. I bend down to her and pull her tight against me and and I speak to her hair and she's holding my neck tight like I might save her. "I want to always be proud of you, Noa. I want to know that you will always be kind. You are too sweet and too good to be hateful to other people. I want you to always be your very best and be the kind of girl people want to be friends with. You can't be mean. You're so much better than mean." She's nodding against me. "Do you know how much I love you?" I untie her arms from my neck and hold her back to see her face and her eyes are shiny with silver tears and she sniffles and wipes her nose on the back of her hand. "Do you know how much I love you?" I ask again.
"To the moon and back?" And she's got apology in her tears and sorry has never been so pretty.
"To the moon and back!" I kiss her head and send her off to wash her face.
My hands sink into the hot dishwater and my eyes burn and tears leak out and I cry over the spaghetti pot and I can't understand where this cruelty came from and I can't remember ever feeling more disappointed and I don't know how to do a better job than what I am doing.
And what I really want is to crawl under a blanket and sob until I'm empty but I have to pull myself together and finish the last cup and wash my own face and pray that all the redness will be gone by the time I get to worship practice...