Today marks three years since Ella last walked. Next week will be three years since she could even stand with crutches. That seems unfathomable to me. There are days I struggle to remember a time when she walked, and other days I keep expecting her to jump up and run. Her brother ran down the hall last week in the familiar cadence that was her footstep. It sounded enough like her old step that I woke instantly from a sounds sleep, running around the corner to see that he was the only one awake. I struggled to breathe in that moment.
I miss the girl who walked. It almost feels a betrayal to admit that I miss her. I miss the shy girl with the bashful grin who wished for invisibility above all else. I look at old photographs of her, and they seem like someone else. I love the girl she is today, but I desperately miss the girl she she was and would have been. This is the one day out of the year that I allow myself to think of her.
I waited until she’d gone to the movies with friends, and then I took her worn out ballet shoes from the trunk where I store my mementos and memories. I cradled them in my hands, this last tangible remnant of a girl who danced, and at last I let myself apologize to her. I couldn’t find answers or get help fast enough to save her. I failed that little girl.
It’s taken a lot of therapy for me to be able to come to terms with not being able to keep her safe. That’s the primary job of any parent, but it isn’t always possible. You can’t protect them from enemies you can’t see. That doesn’t mean I’m not sorry. I would change all of it if I could.
And here we are preparing to run the gauntlet again. Although this time in a more predictable one. These next few years are the ones I’ve been dreading. She turns 13 in three weeks. The cute kid in a chair is rapidly becoming the young lady with wheels. She’s been at peace with her body until now, but I worry. Puberty is hard enough for normal kids, and I don’t want her to hate her body.
Until now, she has lived in a protective bubble of people who love her and tell her how amazing she is. That can’t go on forever. Last week’s first encounter with a mean girl at a party left her momentarily floundering. She’d never faced that kind of venom before, and I can’t shield her from it.
With all of the obstacles that we’ve faced in the past three years, all the fights we’ve fought and won, there aren’t many as destructive as the acid tongues of other 13 year-old girls. My girl is not going to safely blend into any crowd. She’s going to stand out, and not just because she can’t stand up.
And we’ve reached the point where all we can do is love her and pray; so please keep us all in prayer as we make the daunting changes from little girl to teenager, homeschooled 7th grade to traditionally schooled 8th grader, and shy little mouse to a lion that roars.
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