Circles of Girls

Late last week, the mother of one of my daughter’s Kindergarten friends passed away. Her battle with cancer was long fought but the end came suddenly. She was far too young to die. Her two daughters are far too young to have lost their Mommy.

When my daughter’s friend came back to school yesterday this thing happened and I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t get the image out of my mind.

School drop-off is a version of the same thing every day. When the bell rings, we line our snow-suited, sniffling, messy bundles up against the wall of the school and wait for attendance to be taken. On a normal day, some of the children stand, some run around, some wrestle, some are forlorn, some cry, some talk to themselves, some throw snowballs, you get the picture, it’s basically chaos. Keeping them standing against the wall is an exercise in futility- herding cats so to speak. We do this until the names have been called so that we have the handover on public record. That’s the drill.

But yesterday was not a normal day. I put my daughter in line. When her friend arrived she immediately requested to be next to her. One of the more mature little girls purposefully moved to make space for my daughter who is among the youngest in the class. And then ever-so-gradually, all the girls made a circle, not around their friend, but with her. Nobody really said anything profound. Nobody did anything. They just made a circle. In the most organic way, a bunch of 5-year-old girls figured out that they needed to hold space for their grieving friend…and themselves.

How did they know to do that I wonder? I don’t do that and I’m a grown-up. I’m so caught up in the minutia of my schedule, what I need to get done this day, this week, this year that I barely have time to talk to my own husband, never mind my girlfriends.

Do I even have girlfriends anymore? It’s not exactly like I’ve nurtured those relationships. And how many times have I met someone and thought, we could be great friends, I should reach out, but never do. How many times has someone reached out to me and I’ve only half-heartedly reached back. Lamely, even.

The fact is, I’ve been lazy. Really lazy. Just over a year ago I lost a colleague and friend to breast cancer. We’d lost touch. I didn’t even know she had cancer. I mean how is that even possible in this day and age? Lazy. And this woman, the Mother of my daughter’s friend, reached out so many times. Let’s get the girls together for a play date! Yeah, for sure, let’s do that. Let me know what works for you…but I never did.

Here’s the thing. The last meaningful conversation I had with her was the day after the US election. Both of us, a bit weepy, really angry, standing in the playground watching our girls play wondered at how we would raise our daughters to live in this new world. I couldn’t have imagined that this would be the last meaningful conversation I’d have with her, though I fully knew about her battle with cancer. By the way, I’ve said those exact words before, way back in 2010 in a speech at a celebration of life for my ex-student and dear friend Danielle Marks. I’ve had this kind of wake-up call before. Wake up, Tee, wake up.

So how am I going to raise my daughter? Maybe I’m not. Maybe in this, I’m going to let her- I’m going to let them- raise me. After all, seeing those little girls so elegantly handle the moment- I can learn from that. I should. We should. Let’s make circles of girls; all the circles with all the girls because we need each other more than ever now.

And speaking of circles, this bright light that we have now lost created a circle of her own. She did that while living with cancer so I’m pretty sure the rest of us have no excuse. She created a circle of young women, living with cancer. That circle helped a lot of people. If you want to learn more about that, donate or become a part of the community, go to


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