She walked up slowly to the table of cookies and popcorn. Her big brown eyes and unruly curly hair stuck out immediately.
“I want a cookie please,” she said in a tiny voice.
I was behind the table, volunteering at a fundraiser at Ethan’s school. We had turned other kids away who approached us without money, asking for food. I didn’t know this little girl. Had never seen her before.
“Do you have any money?” asked one of the moms working with me.
The little girl, probably 4 or 5 years old, shook her head.
“Then no,” said the other mom and she turned away from the little girl.
“Honey, cookies are 50 cents, but I’ll give you one for a quarter,” I said bending down to her level.
What I said next has haunted me since Friday night. It was exactly the thing I hate hearing. That I dread will be asked of one of my kids someday. An assumption of a “typical” family – a mom, a dad, two kids, white picket fence. But the words just came out.
“Why don’t you go find your mom and your dad?” I asked.
“I don’t have a dad,” she said. “He died. He was really sick and he died. He’s dead now.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. One of the other moms put her arm around my shoulder. “I’m so sorry, honey,” I said.
But by then, she disappeared into the crowd.
I dabbed my eyes, and she came back with 50 cents. I gave her three cookies.
“Do you know her?” I asked all the other mom volunteers. “Have you ever seen her before?”
But no one knew the little girl. (Unusual that no one knew her since this is a small school in a very close-knit church community, and a little girl with a dead daddy would certainly be memorable.)
The tiny little girl, so young but so confident, handled the situation beautifully. She was poised and eloquent. She answered liked it was no big deal, and maybe to her, it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t know her story.
But to me it was a big deal. I wish I knew that little girl. I want to give her a hug. To cry with her mom. To say, “ I get it and I’m so sorry I assumed you had a mom and a dad and I know that it’s hard.”
I haven’t seen the little girl since.
On a related note, the mom who assumed that Ethan would be “over” the death of his dad was volunteering at the event also. Early in the evening, she pulled me aside.
“I need to tell you that I’m sorry,” she said.
“For what?” I asked.
“That night at the meeting. That was so STUPID of me to say. Of course Ethan is grieving. I’m sure you are, too. It’s a huge loss for you guys. I feel so bad about saying that. I didn’t mean anything by it. I went home and cried to my husband because it was just wrong to say. It came out SO WRONG. I’m so sorry that I said that,” she said.
And I forgave her.