A couple of nights ago, Nikki asked me “Mom, what does ‘reluctant’ mean?” I tried to explain, but then, because I read the look on her face as continued puzzlement, I asked her to tell me what the sentence was that she’d read. “I’ll tell you later, Mom,” she said, and then walked away. I knew then, as I almost always know with this daughter, that it was something more important than just a word in a book she was reading.

Sure enough, later that evening, when we were alone, she said, “I was asking about the word, because on my report card it says ‘Nicole is reluctant to speak up in class’.” Ah yes, I should have known that a week after she brought home the report card, she was still processing its contents. Other kids (like Julie) have long forgotten what it said in their report cards, but not Nikki. Nikki is a “processor”.

Let me tell you a little about the mind of this dear girl. She has always been a thinker of thoughts way beyond her young years. She’s always had a corner of the world on her young shoulders. From a very young age, it was clear that she couldn’t just be a “kid” – her little mind was always working; full of things too big for her to fully comprehend, but too important for her to ignore.

This is the girl who, at the age of 2, would worry when I pulled into the mall parking lot that I wouldn’t be able to find a parking spot. I’m sure the first word that came out of her mouth was in the form of a question. She needed to know EVERYTHING there was to know – all the little pieces of the puzzle that would help her put her world in order. We’d walk down the street – when she was still young enough to be in a stroller (and trust me, that didn’t last long) – and she’d see a man walking down the street. “Who’s that man? where’s he going? Does he have any children? Does he live close to us?” It wasn’t just a passing curiosity – it was like she NEEDED to know all these things. Only if she knew did she feel like her little world was safe. Oh, how wearying it was to ALWAYS be looking for answers that would satisfy her. “I don’t know,” was never good enough.

When she was about 3, her great-grandmother died. Driving home one night, a few days after Mémère died, Nikki looked up at the moon and asked “Mommy, who moves the moon?” Because she was too young for the scientific answer and I was too tired to try to help her understand, I said, “God does.” The look of concern on her face told me that, once again, that answer didn’t quite satisfy. “But what does Mémère Beauchemin do while God’s moving the moon?” It wasn’t just a random question, it was a genuine concern that Mémère might not be very well cared for up there in a heaven where God was busy being distracted by moon-moving duties.

When she was 4, we lost Matthew. She wanted to send our stroller up to heaven so God would have something to take Matthew for walks in. She also needed to know what we did with his body, and how all those little babies could fit in one little urn she saw buried under the ground.

When she was 5, the World Trade Centre came down, and I knew I’d have to handle it carefully with her. For one thing, I could never lie to this little girl. She NEEDED to know the truth. Fairy tales, like Santa or the Tooth Fairy were a waste of time with her – she needed truth, not fictional characters. She needed to KNOW it was Mommy sneaking into her room to put a quarter under her pillow. So, on 9/11, when she came home from kindergarten, I knew I’d need to tell her about what had happened – better she hear it from me than from the kids in the play ground; or worse yet, saw it on TV. After I’d explained what had happened, I found her standing at the window, watching some fire trucks go by. There was that familiar look of worry on her face. “Are they going to the towers, Mommy?” Somewhere in my communication, I’d forgotten to tell her the buildings that collapsed were far away from our house.

This is the same girl who will not take communion at church, because it just doesn’t make enough sense to her. How could bread and grape juice have anything to do with God? And if it doesn’t make sense to her, then it would be “cheating” to pretend otherwise.

So, when I heard the question about the word “reluctant”, I knew the question behind it was much deeper than just a passing interest. She needs to know what her teachers are saying. She needs to understand the problem. She needs to mull it over night after night.

Unfortunately, this is a little girl who runs the risk of getting lost in the system. As AC said when I reported her night of tears last week, some kids just don’t fit the mold when it comes to “books and larnin’”. No, it’s true. Some kids are too smart for school. When other kids are busy learning the ABC’s, she’s busy worrying that Hurricane Katrina might make its way to Winnipeg and wollop us like it wolloped New Orleans. Unfortunately, she’s in an environment where she doesn’t feel safe enough to ask the teachers all those questions she needs answers to.

So many days, my heart aches for that little girl. Other days, I gaze at her in wonder at her wisdom and depth. Once, a complete stranger looked at her picture and said “she has an old soul.” I don’t believe in re-incarnation, but if having an “old soul” means that you view the world through eyes that are older than your years, then she does indeed have an old soul.

I am humbled to be the mother of this wise and wonderful little girl. Some days, she seems too much for me. Do I give her the right answers to her many questions? Do I make the world safe enough for her? Have I helped her find enough coping mechanisms to face the world?

I’ve often said that she will either be a deep thinker and scholar, amazing the world with her insight and wisdom, or she’ll have a nervous breakdown before she reaches adulthood. I hope it’s the former. I hope the decisions we’re making as parents (like the fact that we’re not pulling her out of school when she seems completely lost in a class that’s way too big and she gets lost in the shuffle) are the right ones – or at least they’re “good enough”.

Please God, let her make it through. She’s a tender flower and I love her so, so much.

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