Helping a Child Transition
Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can't believe the hopes He's granted
Means a chapter of your life is through.
~Michael W. Smith
I find Jacoba Brenda in a storage tub, buried with her sisters under musty newborn-turned-doll clothes. I gently pull her out and cup her beany body with both hands. I lay my cheek against her cold, bald head, and I remember.
We brought the double-dimpled, paci-faced preemie home for our daughter’s first birthday. It displaced all her favorite toys, including her plush “duckie” rattle. She couldn’t sleep without it.
Her then knit-capped head snuggled against two-year-old Abby’s cheek while I cradled them both just before the doctors shut off her grandmother’s life support.
Days later I pulled Jacoba Brenda, soaked, from a babysitter’s backyard wading pool where she had spent the night of the funeral face down, forgotten—and Abby had spent the night with empty arms.
Jacoba Brenda was a very cooperative patient during let’s-play-doctor days and still has BandAid “scars” on her legs from “shots.”
When I tell a grown Abby I’ve found J.B. in a storage tub with her dirt-smeared face and pink highlighter-lined eyebrows, Abby remembers how special she was—and still is.
She remembers sitting stubborn on the steps that led to the upper floor of our Georgia tri-level, refusing to let potential buyers pass. “Dad told me to behave,” she tells me. “When Dad took them downstairs, I ran to my room. I was so mad. Jacoba Brenda and I sat on the floor in front of the slammed door to block it, and the people finally left without coming in.”
“But you were only four years old. You remember that? Do you remember the ponies at your going away party?"
“Yep,” she says. “I remember as though it was yesterday. And I still remember the song you played—Friends.” She shakes her head and rolls her eyes. “It was so hard to leave Ginny and my other friends and the neighbors and the house. And I had no control over any of it.”
My heart shreds more at the edges. We’d done all we knew to do to make our out-of-state transition smooth. Besides, everything had fallen into place as if it was meant to be, and we were moving closer to family. We’d even enrolled her in a preschool and paid two months of tuition to hold her place.
Abby tells me her counselor pinned this event as a major loss, one she’s silently grieved for over twenty years. The counselor calls her a “feeler” and says she seems to connect tightly to people and places. It’s hard to let go and move on. Having had no real power in the decision to move may partly explain why she has “control issues” to this day, including the need to be in the driver’s seat of a car.
Abby’s counselor suggested a visit to the old house might help reconnect her past and her present. My husband and I returned years ago, so we’ve seen that the kitchen bay window (the one through which Abby saw her first snowfall) is gone. A tree crashed through it in a storm. Several other trees fell. The grandparent-type neighbors have died.
I give the doll another squeeze. I need to clean her up because if Abby does go back, no doubt Jacoba Brenda should go, too.