Sunday, November 7, 2010


1. soft or delicate in substance; not hard or tough: a tender steak.
2. weak or delicate in constitution; not strong or hardy.

This afternoon our family went for a walk.  We progressed in fits and starts.  Two scooters for three girls meant trading off periodically.  Two parents on foot meant power walking occasionally to keep the scooter borne girls in sight.  The last time the girls and I went to this greenway to talk (over fall break), we brought along colored pencils, crayons and paper for sketching.  K liked that idea, so in addition to stops required to explore off the trail, we had to have an art break or two.

Shortly after one of our art breaks, B was zooming along on her scooter, trying to catch up to K.  J and I were walking along behind when we saw B turn around and head back.  "Oh, no!" she exclaimed surveying the ground, as she crouched over a section of pavement with her hand over her mouth.  As we got closer, I wondered what had left her so dismayed.  I could see a small object on the ground, but a scooter is not really a deadly weapon, so I couldn't imagine what harm she had inflicted.  Only when we were nearly upon her was B able to pull herself together enough to say, "It's a caterpillar.  Just like Mr. Fuzzy.  And I killed it."

B is a caterpillar lover.  She has found, rescued and nurtured three or four of these creatures (albeit to varying levels of success).  Her latest caterpillar, Mr. Fuzzy, was the result of a trip to the zoo.  I told her it is quite likely she was the only child that day - or that week - to visit the zoo and leave with a live animal.

Mr. Fuzzy

Each member of our family had their own reaction to the death of this small, fuzzy insect.  A was quick to tell B that the caterpillar was in heaven.  B's reply?  "That doesn't make me feel any better, A!"  J gave B a hug and murmured a few sympathetic words.  K was oblivious and cruised ahead on her scooter.  My reaction?  Independent of B's distress, this poor dead caterpillar would barely have registered with me.  But a distraught daughter certainly elicits a different reaction. 

As B sat on the side of the track with tears streaming down her face, I struggled to find the right words.  I made a few meager attempts.  I told her that the three or four caterpillars she had rescued outweighed this one accident.  She (rightly) rejected that - don't we all wish our good deeds would make up for our mistakes, while we know deep in our hearts that they don't make right our wrongs?  I reminded her that it was an accident, but this brought little comfort.  Knowing that she didn't mean to hurt the caterpillar didn't erase the fact that she had.  Finally, this Word Girl sat there beside her tenderhearted B and just listened.

There were no words I could offer that would mitigate her hurt.  So I just listened and nodded as she talked about how Mr. Fuzzy would have loved having this caterpillar for a friend.  I held her as she sobbed that she is glad to have sisters (unlike Mr. Fuzzy).  I agreed when she said that A or K would not have been as upset had they been the one to run over the caterpillar.  I remained silent when she said it would have been better had she not gone back to check and see whether she'd run over him.  What could I say to that?  It was over and done before that return trip on the scooter and I have a feeling this was meant to be a part of B's journey today.

This middle child of mine is such a complex being.  She can throw out a harsh word to her older sister, read a book to her younger one and cry over a caterpillar, all in the span of a few hours.  I hope she grows and matures into an amazing woman.  One who is undeterred when others doubt her abilities or don't share her vision.  One whose heart still aches over life's little and big hurts.  One whose heart still holds a tender spot for caterpillars.  Because her soft heart does not render her weak (another definition of tender).  No, it doesn't make her weak at all.  I have a feeling that as she matures, her tenderness will be her greatest strength.

A Tenderhearted Girl

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