What You Need

February 27, 2014

I stand outside the gunmetal gray doors, waiting for a bell to ring, those doors to open, and the chaotic kaleidoscope of children and backpacks and mittens to spill out onto the blacktop.

There’s always a group of four boys who are first out of the shotgun. The instant the bell rings, they’re out of that room, bellowing and yawping, leaping into the air, leaving the rest of the kids in their dust. Every day when I see them it makes me smile. Ah, the freedom of a ringing bell and an open door. You forget how thrilling it feels, bursting out of a quiet and rule-filled room into blinding sunlight and the promise of a free afternoon. It’s almost like being born again, every day.

Clusters of girls follow, walking with deliberate self-control. They hoist their pink sweaters onto indignant shoulders, rolling their eyes and tossing their curls as the boys frolick and pop like unruly grasshoppers. Boys. Ugh. So excitable, those boys.

The kids who ride the bus hustle down a separate sidewalk, faces all business, intent on securing a good spot to sit. Some kids look anxious every afternoon–they’ve been riding the bus for months now, but the threat of a missed bus still looms over them, and they study the sea of yellow and the jumble of numbers in the parking lane intently. Only when they spot the correct vehicle do they allow their shoulders to relax and their backpacks to swing.

My daughter is somewhere near the end of the stream of trickling bodies, but as soon as she exits the classroom she comes to a hard halt, backing up the line of eager kids behind her. She stops and her eyes scan backandforth, backandforth, until she sees my waving hand. Her face breaks open in joy and suddenly she’s running, barreling toward me, jacket askew and boots thunking on the concrete.

I will never get tired of this.

I will never tire of the wave of love and relief I feel when I see her exit those doors.

Oh, there you are. I’ve missed you. Hi.

I also know this won’t last.

Miss M. is the only second grader who still flings herself at her waiting parents. Other kids smile, other kids give a little wave of recognition, others dawdle a few more minutes to chat with a friend.  Miss M. catches air, crashing into my chest, nearly bowling me over.  Like a puppy, she’s uncontrolled and completely unaware that her enthusiasm isn’t the norm.  Her pleasure at going home exceeds any thread of social boundary or self-consciousness.

It won’t last.

I know that.

And it pierces through my joy at seeing her, a hard and sharp reminder that I’m on borrowed time. Greetings aren’t simply joyous anymore; there are shadows now. Shadows in the background that I can see coming, shadows that fill me with loss and yearning, because even as I welcome her back home, I’m mourning the loss of her.

I’m mourning the loss of my daughter and she hasn’t even done the leaving yet.


My worldly older daughter has been long gone for a while now, lost to homework and hormones and iPhone, but Hummingbird still belongs to me.

I should be drinking in every last morsel of her, tucking memories into my pockets, not torturing myself with the things I’m going to lose.

Reunions are a mixed-up jumble for me now, even though I know I’m being silly.  Spending time with my go-lightly eight-year old feels a lot like the last day of summer holiday–beautiful and aching at the same time.

Such is the nature of the beast. My beast, anyways.

I relieve Miss M. of her backpack and we walk, hand-in-hand, across a street and up three blocks where the car is parked. I park a distance from the school for good reason.  Those three blocks are crucial information-gathering opportunities, and I don’t squander a minute. Once she gets in the car, she’s lost to the charms of the radio, fiddling with knobs and punching the volume. Anything good I’m going to learn? I have three blocks to wrangle it out.

The first block is full of the usual details–what special she had today and who she played with and what she learned, but as we approach the second block, her hand tightens around mine and she sombers.

“I cried three times today,” she says.

“You did? Oh no! What happened, Bunny?”

She purses her lips for a moment, considering, and then she says, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Are you sure? I mean, if you were sad, I’d really like to know why?”

She shakes her head at me. “I’m not saying. I just…don’t want to tell you, okay?”


But of course it isn’t okay. There’s a part of my daughter that she wants to keep from me. She has secrets that she keeps carefully in her corners–corners that I’m not invited into.

Being uninvited sucks and it hurts and it makes me worry that she doesn’t trust me to react appropriately to what she’s saying. I’m not even being given the chance?

How can you help your kid when that door closes?


I fidget in bed, busy in my head. I call uncle! and throw the covers back. I walk quietly to my laptop and fire off a quick email to her teacher, hoping to gather more information.

“She said she was in tears three times today but she wouldn’t talk to me any further than that,” I write. “I’m at a loss with her. How can I make her feel better if I don’t know what happened?”

Miss M.’s teacher calls me the next day during her break, and what she says is a surprise.

“You know, sometimes she won’t tell me either,” her teacher chuckles. “She will express disappointment or sadness, but she doesn’t want to go into the details. She’ll close off.”

“I know!” I whine. “It’s so frustrating. What should I do?”

“Well,” her teacher says, “I don’t know what you should do.  I don’t even know if that’s the question we should be asking.” She pauses for a moment. “I can tell you what you can do, though.”

“Please, tell me.”

“When she tells you she was sad or crying or upset, instead of asking what happened, you can ask her what she needs.”

“What she needs?”

“Yes. Does she need a hug? Does she need some time to herself? Does she need to cry about it for a while? Does she need to talk about it? Does she need you to let it go?”


I’ve never thought to ask that question.

What do you need?

It’s a completely different question than “what happened,” isn’t it?

I’ve never seen that distinction before. “What happened?” focuses on the past. “What do you need?” focuses on the here and now.

I feel shaky and stupid and relieved.

Maybe, just maybe, the answer is in the question.






{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby February 27, 2014 at 1:49 pm

For once, I think you’ve left me speechless. This is an incredible piece that I’m totally going to share. Again, you’re writing is something I am constantly in awe of. But to your point, more often than not we don’t even know what we need. There’s just that feeling, hoping somebody can tell us so that maybe, just maybe, that feeling will then go away. You just need one person, I guess. She’s lucky that she has you.


Dana Talusani February 28, 2014 at 8:59 am


I’m not so sure she’s lucky–I mess up a lot. Thank goodness for second chances.


Tina February 27, 2014 at 4:58 pm

I dread the days when my son no longer wants to hang around me. But thanks to you, I have a new way to reach him. What do you need? So simple!


Velva February 27, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I loved those days when my little one was happy to see me. It still makes me melt. Now he is pulling out of my driveway with our car. I got to tell you there are still some very special moments they are rare but they happen.

I am going to start asking “what ydo ou need” instead of what happened too. What a great way to have those conversations. Love it.



Dana Talusani February 28, 2014 at 9:00 am


Just thinking about my girls driving a car sends me into a panic! :)


Kelly February 27, 2014 at 8:23 pm

“What do you need?” It only makes sense and I am going to use it. Thanks!
I dread the day when my kids don’t hug me in public and want to hang out with me. It’s the biggest reason I work in their lunch program everyday so I can see them, get to know the kids they are around and the scoop on how their day is going. And of course the hugs in the hall and in the lunchroom make my day. :)


Dana Talusani February 28, 2014 at 9:02 am


Isn’t it great when they WANT you to volunteer at school? Now that my oldest is in middle school, I’m getting both sides! She’d rather die!


Lisa February 27, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing. :) I’ve already got a 4 year old who wants space at times. It’s hard letting them grow up but there have been so many moments of pride so far. Luckily I still get my goodbye hug and kiss at school though at this point. :)


Dana Talusani February 28, 2014 at 9:05 am


My older daughter wanted space at a very early age. I clearly remember her toddling around, and she fell, and when I ran to comfort her, she held up a determined little hand and said, “no!” THAT was a wake up call!


Alison February 27, 2014 at 11:33 pm

My kids are still tiny so they’re still barreling into me when we reunite. I love it. To see their faces breaking into smiles when they spot me.

Miss M.’s teacher is wise. I love her advice. I’m going to use that in all situations.


Dana Talusani February 28, 2014 at 9:06 am


We totally hit the teacher lotto with her! She’s amazing.


Katrina Kenison February 28, 2014 at 4:49 am

This, hands-down, is my favorite pieces of yours ever, and not only because you had me in tears way back at the beginning, with “I will never get tired of this.” You convey so beautifully the helplessness we all feel when we can’t make it right because we don’t even know what “it” is — yes, yes, know that all too well. And then, bless you and bless your little one’s wise teacher, you lead us right out of the dark place and into light. “What do you need?” The answer is in the question. Indeed. I’ll remember this. Thank you.


SuziCate February 28, 2014 at 5:38 am

Miss M has a wonderful teacher who is in tune with her students.


Shannon February 28, 2014 at 6:24 am

This is so good. So good.

I love her teacher’s advice. It’s a smart question to ask of others. And ourselves.


Dana Talusani February 28, 2014 at 9:07 am


That’s true–how often do I not even know what I need?


Amy February 28, 2014 at 8:52 am

Oh – this is wonderful! “What do you need?” Wisdom and kindness compressed into four short, soul-freeing words. The power of language, the power of compassion. How brilliant, how beautiful. Love, love, love this! Thank you for sharing. xo


Angela Squires February 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I stopped over from the Type-A Parent link-up. What a wonderful post! Your writing is beautiful, and your emotional honesty makes me feel things I’ve never confronted before. Great advice, too. The answer is in the question. I’m going to remember that. And I’m going to share your link. Thank you.



Dana Talusani February 28, 2014 at 4:10 pm


Thank you for stopping by, reading and sharing! Happy to meet you!


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri February 28, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Oh, Dana. I soaked in every word. Beautiful.



Lisa @ The Meaning of Me February 28, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Hmm. Mm-hmm. Yes. That’s exactly what my mind did for like ten minutes. What do you need is indeed a better question. I think of Kidzilla and all her independence and all her – for lack of a truly right word – stuff. I always want to know what happened but it really is far less important than what the child needs. How silly are we Mommies.


Kayla February 28, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Oh Dana, I loved this so much. Daphne and Mira will always be my first baby-loves, so glad I can still read stories about them as they are growing up! You’re are such a beautiful writer and mom. xoxo


D. A. Wolf March 1, 2014 at 11:45 am



Katybeth March 1, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I love that question. It’s a wonderful question. Cole is presenting his senior project on his 18th birthday (March 7th) and it seems we have been talking about “his” project ever since he saw the 12th graders present their projects when he was in 1st grade. Now it is his turn, and it’s hard to be excited because then it will be over. And I don’t want it to be over.
It cuts to the bone when they won’t talk to us. But then I think back and remembered how much I loved my Mom and how important she was to me and how I hung on to her long past the point where my friends were letting go and I how there was a lot I didn’t want to tell my Mom. A lot I didn’t tell her. Sometimes because I didn’t want her to hurt as much as I did. I just knew that what ailed me, ailed her far worst. I hated that. The same thing holds true for my teen. But I have noticed that the more I listen, and the less I try to fix the more he tells me. Not an easy task, and one I’ve failed at more often than not.


Sherri March 3, 2014 at 11:10 am

Lucky girl – with a mom who goes a big extra mile all the time :).

My second grade Milo doesn’t tell me things either, but…. it’s usually that he got a time out at lunch for running again or wrestled someone during kickball. Enjoy your gentle hummingbird :).


Tiffany March 3, 2014 at 6:42 pm

I’m feeling the same way about my youngest lately…and just trying to soak him up. Whet perfect advice from her teacher…I’m taking that advice!


Dana Talusani March 13, 2014 at 7:48 pm


When you write about Gabe, I totally think of Miss M. That special kind of love for the soft-hearted…there is nothing else more precious.


Jennifer March 11, 2014 at 12:22 pm

And this has me totally tearing up. A change of perspective is sometimes all we need.


Dana Talusani March 13, 2014 at 7:53 pm


One thing my kids constantly teach me is how much I don’t know.


Fran March 24, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Beautifully written.
She will still fling! I am looking forward to a big fling this coming weekend when I fly 2 hours to see my college girl. She’ll be filled with her secrets, but news too, and I will soak up every word. She’s a friend now.
Yes! I will ask “what do you need?” I love that idea… she will say “nothing” but I will force her to take a little cash and a couple of free meals away from the dining hall. There is joy in every phase and even though they are gone, they are never all gone. Love the blog and your wonderful success. Keep it up.


Dana Talusani March 26, 2014 at 11:42 pm


That girl is still yours, even though she’s stomping out her ground, fervent like a new colt.

It’s hard to swallow when you know they keep secrets, but you have the right perspective. Soak up and drench in the moments you have. And hey, maybe you’ll hit pay dirt with the information, but if not, let yourself be okay in the moments you have.

I’d love to see you soon. I’ve always admired the relationship you have with M. and I know that this stuff is coming my way, Miss D. already rolls her terrible eyes and gnashes her terrible teeth at me, and she is only 12. WHY did I ask the universe for girls?


Meg August 30, 2014 at 5:22 pm

I saw shadows in my middle son at the end of 4th grade. It wasn’t until the end of 6th that he finally told how badly he was being bullied, including threats if he told anyone or asked for help. The bully was a “friend” of his, who constantly asked for him to come over to play, who wouldn’t leave him alone to do his work in class, who stuck to him like glue so no-one else would get close. While I completely agree with the wisdom of asking “what do you need?”, and I see that as a powerful step, please, please see if there are other angles that need looking at. It has taken years to begin undoing the damage to his self-esteem and sense of safety.


Tammy Soong August 31, 2014 at 12:57 am

I hear you loud and clear on all of this. And it’s just so beautifully written.

By the way, mine are 10 and 11 and still run to me after school sometimes. So you just never know. :)


Dana Talusani September 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Tammy Soong,

You are a lucky, lucky mama. :)


adrianne September 25, 2014 at 9:56 am

your article touched my soul- I know that sounds ridiculous about something so small as “my daughter (7) won’t talk to me.” With everything else going on in this world, it seems so trivial- after all, how terrible can it be being 7? She’s safe, fed, taught, plays, does activities after school. But it has been the hardest year knowing she won’t tell me why she cries or won’t eat or wont sleep. And maybe she doesn’t know….maybe she does know and doesn’t know the words to explain it? but this is the perfect solution. I can’t wait for her to barrel down the bus steps today so I can ask!!!


Dana Talusani September 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm


Maybe she won’t be able to tell you at first. I can’t say that it’s foolproof and at first, when you ask she may look at you like, “Whaa?” But over time, it really is working.


Jocelyn James November 12, 2014 at 9:47 am

Thank you for sharing. Mums often feel that we’ve failed our kids and we have nowhere to turn to for advice because we fear being judged. I will definitely ask this question and also consider, with other obstacles that come my way, if im asking the right question.
My 17 yr old called me at work feeling overwhelmed by a subject he was studying for the year end exam & asked me when I’m coming home. I felt so needed & he so desperate that I packed up my bags and headed home immediately. I love being a mum & will not trade it for the world.


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