Permission To Break My Heart

My five-year-old daughter Siena fell in love recently. It was with another girl – a five-year-old princess named Vivien, who lives in a castle in Chicago and is the daughter of my best friend Katsy.

Siena and Vivien have known each other since they were three months old, but they haven’t actually seen each other since. They’ve only heard stories. Siena has heard great tales of Princess Vivien, and Vivien has heard the wondrous stories of Siena and her fairy magic.

But a few weeks ago, they got to chase fairies in a zen garden, play on the beach, sleep in the same bed every night, bathe together with Roberto – the toy penguin, eat fish and chips at the English pub, watch fireworks over San Francisco on the 4th of July, listen to a dharma talk about Harold and the Purple Crayon, leave fairy notes, spend hours in a hot tub, and share other magical adventures that made them fall in love.

They were so in love that Siena pretty much ignored her Mommy and Daddy for a week. She didn’t care about morning snuggles in the bed, because she was too busy coloring with Princess Vivien. She didn’t want to be read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, because she had Princess Vivien to build puzzles instead. Mommy and Daddy were just a wee bit sad. We missed Siena, the queen of the fairies. But we didn’t tell her, because we were happy she was so in love.

Then, Princess Vivien had to go back to Chicago.

And Siena wept. Unconsolably. For hours.

She threw herself on her bed and pointed to the trundle bed where Princess Vivien had slept, and she said, “Every time I look at her bed and she’s not there, my heart hurts.” And she wept some more.

And I started to cry too, because I am missing my friend Susan Aisha, who just died, and I am feeling the same way – that every time I look her way and she’s not there, my heart hurts.

Siena was so bereft and exhausted from a week of so much play, she fell asleep at 2:30 pm and I finally woke her at 6 pm, thinking she might actually sleep all night if I didn’t. After dinner, Siena said, “Mommy, it hurts so much to love Vivien that I don’t think I ever want to see her again.”

And I realized it was time for a Mommy Mojo Tip.

I said, “Let me teach you something I learned that I really want you to know. I have to give every person I love – including you – permission to break my heart.”

She looked at me askance and said, “But Mommy, I would never break your heart.”

And I said, “Ah, but you might. Without even meaning to. You could leave me, and I would cry, and I would look at your bed, and I might wish you had never slept in it because it would hurt so much that you’re not there.”

And she started to cry and said, “But I would never do that Mommy. I would never leave you. And I will always love you.”

And I said, “Yeah, that’s what the man who used to be my husband once said.” (I’d never told her I am divorced.)

Siena said, “You used to have a husband that wasn’t Daddy?” And I nodded.

“He told me he would always love me, and I opened my heart, and I gave him permission to break my heart, and then he decided he didn’t love me anymore. And then one day, I looked at his bed and he wasn’t there anymore. And I thought maybe I would never love anybody anymore and I would never open my heart again.”

“Oh no,” said Siena. “That would be horrible.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Because then I wouldn’t have opened my heart to Daddy and given him permission to break my heart. And then you wouldn’t have been born. And then I wouldn’t have given you permission to break my heart.”


Siena wiped her eyes and said, “I give you permission to break my heart.”

I said, “Me too.”

She said, “I will never leave you, not even when I’m big and I marry Princess Vivien and we have babies together. Because girls can marry girls. And boys can marry boys. And it’s okay.”

I said, “Yes, it’s okay if you want to marry a girl or a boy wants to marry a boy. But you can’t promise that you will never leave me. You never know when it’s your time to become an angel.” And then I started crying, and I told her about how my friend Susan Aisha had just died, and Siena said, “But she’s an angel now, Mommy. I just saw her flutter past in the window.”

And I told Siena how I had given my Daddy – her Papa – permission to break my heart – and when he died two weeks after she was born, he did. He cracked it WIDE OPEN and it spilled all over the floor and made me think about sewing it shut with big wire sutures that would keep it closed forever. But then I didn’t.

And I told Siena that someday, someone she loved, someone she gave permission to break her heart – like me or Daddy or Nana or our dog Grendel or Princess Vivien or her future husband – might break her heart, and she might feel just like she did now, like she didn’t want to give anyone permission to break her heart again. She might want to shut down her heart so it wouldn’t hurt like it did today. She might want to lock up that puppy forever and chain the door shut.

And she said, “No, Mama. Let me teach you a little Siena Mojo Tip. When you fall in love, you should leave a little crack in your heart, even when you feel like you should lock it. And that way, the right person can always sneak in.”

Bingo, sister.

We cried some more. She asked me to promise I would never die and that Daddy and I would never get divorced and that she could live with me forever. I told her I couldn’t make any promises, but that I would ALWAYS give her permission to break my heart, no matter what.

Then Siena said, “Mommy, will you teach me a happy Mommy Mojo Tip?” She was drawing in her fairy coloring book, so I told her she should always color and sing and dance and make salt scrubs and be creative, no matter how many babies she had or how many loves broke her heart, and she giggled and promised that she would. “That would be CRAZY if I stopped making art, Mama,” she said.

And then I held her for a long, long time, and we both cried some more. And she told me she wanted to live with me until she was a hundred, and I told her I wanted the same thing. And then we called upon fairy magic, and we found some glow sticks, and we cracked them open just like our hearts, so they shone with radiant color on a dark night. And we held them up to each other’s hearts and kissed each other three ways – Eskimo, butterfly, and lip kisses.

And right before she fell into the kind of sleep you can only have after a long cry, Siena said, “Mommy, I decided I’m going to give Princess Vivien permission to break my heart. So she can come back again.”

And I said, “I think that’s a good plan.”

And we spun the dream catcher, and turned the lights out.

What About You?

Do you give people permission to break your heart? Or do you build moats and erect walls so you don’t get hurt the way only a five-year-old can get hurt?

Cracked wide open,

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