Today, my six-year-old daughter said those words to me, and I cried.
Here's the story...
Since Abi came home, mealtime has been a battle. We did everything our training said: let her choose her foods, introduce American food slowly, etc. etc.
It's still been a battle. And lately attempting to teach any sort of table manners has been more of a battle.
Today we had another one. Lunch turned from a happy meal into another passive-aggressive power struggle. I was angry; Abi was angry. She took an hour to finally eat her food, and then I disciplined her by making her sit at the table longer. She had to miss going to the park, and to be perfectly honest, I was really glad not to have her there. She could stay home with Daddy forever; I was so sick of fighting with her.
Later, we were both resting in our respective rooms. I prayed that God would help me with this seemingly unsolvable problem. I knew I was partly in the wrong, being overly nitpicky and frustrating her. I knew too that we could not go in the way that we were. Mealtimes were miserable, and that was unhealthy for everyone.
As usual, when I have a problem to solve, I started to research. I googled everything I could think of, from strategies to teach blind kids table manners to Attachment Disorder therapies, to adoptive eating disorders to general parenting strategies. It seemed like so much conflicting advice, and much of it we'd tried before, with no success.
At last, I simply, desperately prayed for help.
I went upstairs to Abi's room, where I knew she lay awake in her bed.
I lay down beside her and started asking questions. I wanted to know what she thought and felt about mealtime.
At first, she merely gave answers she thought I wanted to hear. "I was messy. I was bad."
I wanted to cry. This wasn't working.
"What is hard?" I finally asked.
"The fork is hard," she reluctantly said. Breakthrough! This is where I could stop judging and start listening.
"It is hard," I agreed. "Especially when you don't get to see your plate."
She agreed. We started brainstorming strategies together. I suggested that since peaches were the hardest, slipperiest food, maybe she could drink those out of a mug. She loved that idea.
Then, I said the thing that changed our entire day.
"I'm sorry I keep making food time sad."
"Mommy," she said, "I forgive you."
"I want so much to be a good Mommy and love you, but I made a mistake."
"Everyone makes mistakes," she responded, and wrapped her little arms around my neck.
All of those horrible fears that I would never be able to bond with my daughter, that her attachment would always be disrupted by past trauma, suddenly melted away. I'd feared that I would mess it up, that I wouldn't be able to parent this precious child.
But she is right. We all make mistakes. And part of the miracle of family is wrapping our arms around each other and saying, "I forgive you."