by CJ Heck
When Hannah Hobbes got home from school, she looked for Mommy. Mommy was putting clean dishes away in the kitchen cupboard, so Hannah plopped herself into one of the four chairs at the round oak table. "Hi Mommy. I'm home."
Claira Hobbes stopped what she was doing. She looked over at her pretty six-year-old daughter. Hannah was usually a bright and bubbly little girl -- almost always wearing a cheerful smile which brought the cutest two dimples right along with it.
Today, Claira could see right away that there was something wrong. "Hello Hannah-Banana. Everything okay today at school?"
With all that had happened today, Hannah couldn't help herself. She started to cry. Her jumbled words all came out at once. "I was talking to Janie at school today. Mommy, Janie was so sad and it made me feel sad, too. She's staying with her grandma and grampa because her mommy is in the hospital.
Oh, Mommy! Janie said policemen came and took her daddy to jail! When the policemen took her to her grandma's house, she heard them whispering the word 'abuse'.”
Hannah stopped talking and took a deep breath. She was feeling just awful and the tears kept making little rivers down her cheeks. To make things worse, her nose was crying, too, and she swiped at it with her sleeve.
Claira sat down in the chair next to Hannah at the table and handed her a tissue. Then slowly, she patted her lap. Hannah saw and climbed up on mommy's lap. She really needed one of those special mommy-hugs right now.
Feeling safe inside the hug, Hannah asked, "Mommy, what's abuse?"
Claira gave her a gentle squeeze and laid her cheek on her daughter's soft brown hair. "Well, honey, abuse is a very bad thing. That's when someone who is bigger, or stronger, or older, hurts someone else. It can be words that hurt, or actions that hurt. Sometimes it's someone they love, and that makes it hurt even more."
Hannah might have felt safe, but she also felt confused. She didn't understand, and the tears kept coming. "Janie's very upset. She told me her mommy and daddy might get a divorce. I've been over there lots of times. Her daddy and mommy act happy. Don't they love each other any more?"
Claira thought for a moment. This was a grown-up situation and she wished it hadn't touched Hannah‘s life, but it had. She had to find a way to explain this. "Hannah, people can love each other and still not be good for each other. Do you understand?"
Hannah sniffled and shook her head in a great big ‘NO‘. "This is too hard. I don't understand! Janie said they get angry and shout a lot. She said sometimes her daddy hurts her mommy, but then he's always sorry. Then things are okay again. Janie says they're happy and she doesn't want them to get a divorce."
"I know, sweet girl. I’m sure Janie doesn’t want them to get a divorce. Please listen to me, honey. Hurting someone you love is always wrong. Janie has lived with it all of her life. To Janie, that is what seems normal, but only because she doesn't have anything else to compare it with."
Claira saw Hannah was hurting inside. She just had to find some way to help her understand. Then she spotted Hannah's dog, Jeffie, all curled up in a ball and fast asleep on the rag rug by the kitchen sink. Claira's breath caught in her throat. She suddenly knew how to make it easier for Hannah to understand.
"Hannah, let‘s talk about Jeffie. We've had Jeffie for a long time, even longer than we've had you. You really love that old dog, don‘t you?"
Hannah sniffled, but she couldn't help but smile, too. Jeffie was a great dog! He was her best friend in the whole world. She told him all of her secrets -- and she knew his secrets, too. He didn't like broccoli or spinach either, and he really wasn't too happy when she gave him her spaghetti, but ...
Mommy interrupted her thoughts by asking, "Hannah, how would you feel if you came home from school one day and Jeffie didn’t run up to you and lick your face, wagging his tail and his whole body right along with it? What if Jeffie showed his teeth and growled at you?"
Hannah stopped crying just long enough to giggle a little at the silliness. "Mommy, Jeffie loves me. He would never do that." Hannah tried to sniff her nose tears back inside and Claira handed her another clean tissue from the green box on the table.
Claira went on to ask, "But what if he did bare his teeth and growl at you? What do you think you would you do?"
Hannah‘s big blue eyes looked up at the ceiling. Why is Mommy asking such silly things about Jeffie? "Mommy, If he did THAT, I would tell him to stop!"
Claira paused, thinking about Hannah‘s answer. Now she knew what to ask next. "And what if that didn't work, Hannah? What if Jeffie growled some more, maybe even louder? What if he even tried to bite you?"
Hannah couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Then I would yell at him. I would yell at him and say JEFFIE, NO! STOP!"
This was working, Claira thought to herself. Then she asked, "Okay. But what if it only made him madder and he DID bite you?"
Hannah answered, "Then I would want to hurt him for biting me, but I know you're not supposed to do that. We would probably have daddy put him in a cage so he couldn't bite any more. Or maybe, we could take him to a place where people teach dogs that biting is bad."
Claira smiled to herself. Yes! This was working. "Excellent answer, Hannah. How long do you think that would take?"
Hannah thought for a minute, her mouth squinching to one side and then the other in deep concentration. "Well, until he stopped biting, I guess."
Then Claira took it a step further. "What if he decided not to stop biting? What if Jeffie hurt you very badly? What if he hurt you so bad that you had to go to the hospital?"
"I don't know, Mommy. I don't know!” Hannah's voice rose louder. “I don't want to think about that! He would stop biting. I love Jeffie and he loves me, too. I know he would stop. I know he would."
The thought that Jeffie would ever hurt her brought fresh tears to Hannah’s eyes and she mopped at them with her already damp tissue, trying to catch them as they slid down her cheeks.
Claira gave Hannah another hug, then handed her a fresh tissue. "Yes, Hannah. Jeffie could learn to stop biting, but he would have to be willing to learn how very wrong it is to hurt someone you love."
Suddenly Hannah’s eyes opened wide. She understood what Mommy was trying to say. It was all making sense to her now. Mommy was showing her that what happened with Janie's daddy was just like the story about Jeffie. "Mommy? When Janie's daddy hurt her mommy, the jail is like Jeffie's cage, right?"
"That's right, Hannah," Claira answered, giving Hannah a gentle squeeze.
"And Mommy, Janie’s daddy really could go somewhere and learn how not to do that any more, right?"
"Right again, Hannah."
Hannah quietly nodded her head in understanding. Then Hannah sighed. "Well, I hope he decides to learn. Then he won't have to be in jail and he could go home again. Then they wouldn't have to get a divorce. I don't want Janie to live like that. Janie's my friend and I want her to be happy."
Claira smiled, feeling proud of her six year-old. She wiped the last of Hannah's tears off with her apron. "I love you, little Hannah-Banana," she said with another mommy-hug. "You're a very smart little girl."
"I love you, too, Mommy," and with a smile in return, Hannah wiped her nose with her sleeve and hopped down to go wake Jeffie from his nap.