How My Little Girl’s Strength Amazes Me

Despite the pain she feels from her father’s absence, Katerina Zacharia’s 5-year-old daughter still understands the immensity of that loss for her mother and brother, too.

Sitting in an airport waiting for a delayed flight to Las Vegas to attend a conference, all I can see and feel is my daughter, Jaya. She’s at home with her brother, my babysitter, and my babysitter’s children. A house full of children makes it easier on my kids when I travel. They miss me less, and my babysitter charges me less when she can bring her kids.

I keep replaying the main emotional event of yesterday afternoon in mind. Five-year-old Jaya was sitting at the kids’ table eating cheese and crackers. My 3-year-old son Demitri and I were on the couch watching Brother Bear, a heartfelt movie about love and responsibility. (As a sole parent, I don’t think I need to explain why this horribly animated movie is one of my favorite stories). At the moment when the man decides to remain a bear to take care of the motherless little cub, I heard Jaya whimper. I looked to see her entire face fill with sorrow. I watched her body buckle under the immensity of her loss. As she began to weep, she whispered, “I miss daddy,” and then, fell into herself, hands crossed and head down.

I picked her up and wept with her. In that moment, I saw how her sadness and longing for her daddy had become the emotion she manages despite her relative happiness. Sadness heals over time, but sorrow weaves itself into everything, the mind, the soul, the body, and the heart. It’s permanent. Sorrow doesn’t govern our lives, but it does nudge at the edges of happiness. Even when hidden deep, it surfaces, overwhelms, and for even just a moment, knocks the happiness right out and demands that we acknowledge it 100 percent. It’s under the pressure of that moment that I watched Jaya crumble.

I scooped her up in my arms and wept with her. I don’t weep often, but my small little girl already has an intimate relationship with sorrow. And, that’s jarring. I don’t have the power to undo the sorrow or shield her from it. It’s already there and even if her daddy did return, his return will never undo all the years she spent wondering why he chose to leave her side.  

Now, in between that moment and our pizza dinner, I flew off the handle a few times, impatient, exhausted, irritable. Whether you are a sole, single, or co-parent, I’m sure you recognize how Saturday afternoons can turn into a shitstorm of frustration. This was one of those afternoons. After 10 weeks straight with no break from all my responsibilities, my patience was done. Jaya watched me lose my shit, apologize, lose my shit again, and then, run into my room to hide from her and her brother’s incessant demands. Truly one of those moments when I become keenly aware that I have the emotional intelligence of a caveman.

Later that evening, we were sitting together at our favorite pizza spot. I was determined to redeem myself from my earlier outbursts and ease Jaya’s sorrow even for a moment. I looked at Jaya, stroked her beautiful honey blonde hair, “I’m so sorry your daddy is not here for you.” She looked me in the eye, leaned over to kiss and hug me, and said: “Mommy, I’m sorry he is not here for all of us.”

Jaya is not even six. Yet, she is keenly aware that she is not alone in her sorrow. Her clarity of insight, the practicality of her observations, her inclusivity of her brother and I in the pain she feels amazes me, at moments stuns me into an awed stillness.

Please take a moment. Admire her. I know I do.

Katerina Zacharia is a media executive, teacher, and sole parent raising two children on her own. She is passionate about her work in media, diversity, and education, her children, her friendships and family, and keeping her sanity. She has no nanny.

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