You can know someone for a long time and still not get it.
Last week I picked Shayla up from school, headed to an appointment. I’m sure we’d talked about it, the time, the plan, everything. But from the dark cloud on her face I could tell she was not expecting me.
“Poppa is supposed to pick me up today,” she said, with an edge.
By some luck, my reserves were high and I kept my cool. It’s never fun to supervise a meltdown about how you’re the wrong person at the wrong time, and this looked like an after-school meltdown. But something held me back.
“I’m sorry you’re surprised sweetie. I’m taking you today. We’ll see Poppa afterwards for dinner.” I smiled.
“Poppa is supposed to pick me up!” She repeated this with increasing alarm and sadness. The tears, upset and angry and bitter, started in full.
We got to the car. The crying escalated, though it was quiet crying.
“I know you don’t like to be surprised. Especially after school, you’ve never liked to be surprised.” I said.
And then the most obvious thing hit me. Blindingly, painfully obvious.
“You know,” I said, “you probably got the worst surprise of your whole life after school, four years ago, when instead of your mom picking you up from preschool, it was the social worker. Do you remember that day?”
She nodded, still crying.
“Was it the most awful day ever?”
“Yes, it was.” She said. “It was.”
It was quiet for a bit.
“Can I put on music?” she asked.
“Of course, sweetie.”
Finally I had the key to this afterschool thing. It’s not at all personal. And she has a very good reason.
She doesn’t like surprises.