Lily was a fussy newborn, but once she was well established, she was a funny delight. She loved music, waving her hands back and forth in time with guitar music and dancing that cute little toddler bounce when a great disc was playing.
We attended a lovely laidback Episcopal church when she was little. The services were pretty informal, thank goodness, because it allowed us to attend and be embraced by a genuine fellowship. Lily was truly well loved, even though she was prone to loudly make herself known during the services.
In this congregation, children were permitted to receive communion at the parents' discretion. As a toddler, Lily loved the fresh baked bits of bread that served as the host. When the wine was passed, I took my sip and waved the celebrant on, indicating that Lily didn't need any. Finally, she caught on and had enough. She didn't want to miss out any longer. One fateful day, as I waved on the wine, Lily loudly proclaimed, "body and blood of Christ, I want a drink!" After a brief shocked silence, this lovely congregation shook the rafters with their laughter. Clearly Lily was able to articulate her needs and wants.
Lily continued to show a strong tendency to be open and honest about her feelings. I'd been a quiet and compliant child, and suffered for it, so I was happy to have a child who seemed strong and assertive. Especially a girl. When the dance teacher in her 3 year old dance group played music Lily didn't like, she said so. The teacher was incensed. I was amused. When the teacher threw a tantrum, I pulled my daughter out of the class. How can a preschool dance instructor have no sense of the absurd? No sense of appropriate humor for the 3 year old set? We're not talking Julliard.
When Lily started kindergarten, things became a bit more interesting. Lily was sent to the principal's office when she had a hard time calming down in class. The phone conversation I received at work went something like this:
"Ms. Smith, your daughter is in my office and she called me a name," said the middle aged principal.
"What name did she call you?" I asked after a short stunned silence.
"She called me a bug eyed creep."
I couldn't speak at first, struggled to keep from laughing out loud. The principal was tattling. I asked her, "What do you usually do when a student calls you a name?"
She replied that she'd never been called names by a student before. Well, I thought, not that you knew about anyway.
Lily and I were close. She always wanted to snuggle up with me, especially at bedtime when we read stories together. When she and her little brother were both small, we three would climb into my bed and read our favorite storybooks. Miss Spider and Duck Soup brought on fits of giggles every time.
Her creativity knew no bounds. One day she pulled out the black and orange markers and colored tiger stripes all over her brother and herself. Halloween costumes were easy around our house!
Lily's behavior as she progressed through elementary school should have been a clue about her impending mental health struggles. But I thought she was just sensitive and creative. We had some difficult family struggles. It became hard to know when Lily was being truthful or imaginative. I'm not entirely sure Lily always knew the difference between truth and lies.
But the reality we now face doesn't change the facts in our past. Lily was fun, funny and sweet. Her outrageous behavior as a small child seemed refreshing in a world where children aren't always respected as whole individuals. I can't see that as a mistake. She was, and is, entitled to be herself, to make her feelings known and to share the best parts of her artistry and imagination with the world. Even if I am her audience of one.