“Tender Hearts”

Ok kids, I am digging deep into the archives today because I have time-management issues and am still putting the final touches on an article for Homecoming Magazine that I should have turned in yesterday and therefore have got nothing/nada/zilch/bupkes to post today I thought you might enjoy a blast from the past.

I wrote this when Madi Rose was seven.

This morning I dropped her off at her school so she could get on a bus with her classmates for an all-day spiritual retreat about two hours away. As we pulled out of the driveway, she was putting the finishing touches on her make-up (*cough*too much eyeliner*cough*) in the rear-view mirror while simultaneously eating a carton of yogurt and complaining about having to get up so dang early on a Saturday and the fact that she had cramps, and suddenly…. I had a vision of the 7 year old Madi and got all nostalgic and lump-in-my-throat-y. Don’t get me wrong, I love this current incarnation of my first-born. She is as funny and quirky and fascinating and dear as the 7 year old version was, only with more eye makeup and attitude. KIDDING! (Sorta.) At any rate, I came home and dug out this essay and thought I would post it here. Later today if I ever finish that article I might go up and dig through our family photos and see if I can come up with a picture to show you her little long-ago self– if so, I’ll post it at the end of the piece. So anyway, Happy, um, Archives Day!


  “Tender Hearts”

 My daughter Madi Rose can communicate with animals.  That’s what she tells me, and who am I to argue?  She has explained, with all the front-tooth-missing earnestness of a seven year old, that if she squats down in front of them, and looks in their eyes and gets very still she can hear their thoughts. She has demonstrated this on several occasions, the most recent one in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a Smokey Mountain tourist trap cloaked in the guise of a faux-folksy European village. The two of us were wandering the winding, Bermuda-shorts-clogged streets alone, having relegated her little sister to a much needed nap in the hotel room with her dad. Madi Rose spotted a small shallow stream running parallel with a side street, complete with several larger than usual mallard ducks paddling around in it. When we got closer, we could see a female duck up on the bank, brown and drab compared with the flashier males, hunkered down in the tall weeds. There was some small movement at her side, and we could barely distinguish the shapes of ducklings surrounding her, maybe five or six of them.

Madi Rose insisted that we get closer, and despite my warnings that she was going to spook them, she ended up on all fours in the grass, motionless, barely five feet away from the ducks. After casting a wary eye and making a little throaty noise to warn her babies to stick close, the mother appeared to decide that my daughter was harmless, and again settled in. They stayed that way for a long time, and I could see Madi’s lips moving and the duck stirring around, keeping a watch on her ducklings and apparently, I swear to God, listening. After an inordinately long time, and several  increasingly stern admonitions to “Come ON, sweetie, we have to go,” Madi Rose finally got up, said one last thing to the duck family and reluctantly joined me. “So, how cool was that?”I started to say, but she raised one finger to silence me and then reported, “Ok. Her name is Annie, she’s not sick, just taking a little rest, she’s lived here for three years and says that she pretty much enjoys her children but they can really wear her out, and sometimes they get on her last nerve.”  

 Later that night, curled up in our hotel room bed, she mused aloud about this favorite ‘special talent’, as she refers to it; (her other ‘special talent’ being an uncanny ability to make really loud flatulent noises with her armpit, AND the space behind her knee.) “I think,” she said, “that they let me hear their thoughts because they know that I have a, well,… you know.” And I did know. This is not the first time we have had a conversation about Madi Rose’s “tender heart.” That phrase has been offered as an explanation for all manner of things–why she cries when her Daddy sings, why she can’t stand to watch TV shows about children or animals being hurt, why she can’t join a soccer league. Her well-documented tender heart is part of our family lore. Now on more than one occasion I have tried to carefully explain to her the difference between having a heart that is easily moved and compassionate, which is a good thing, and having the kind of heart that is touchy and constantly getting it’s feelings hurt. “That is not a good thing,” I say. “That basically just drives people crazy and makes them not want to be around you.” “I KNOW the difference,” she insists, eyes rolling with impatience.  “I don’t have that yucky kind.” 

And the older she gets, and the more I observe her way of relating to the world, the more I suspect that not only is she right, but what we are calling “tender heart” may be better described as a “woman’s heart.” There is a depth and range to her heart that belies her years, and it seems to have room in it for all manner of people and things. Yet she is also a bit discriminating, and she doesn’t appear to allow just any old stuff in. When she loves, it is with an intensity that is sometimes disturbing to me, as I remember my teenaged angst-ridden years and project that into her future. But even as I fear for her, even as my protectiveness rises, I sense a resilience in my Madi Rose’s heart that I have just come to recognize in my own rather beat-up, 40-something year old model. In my case it’s a resilience born of experience, of surviving shattering disappointments and betrayals and slowly, painstakingly learning to rebuild, and heal, and love again. So wheredoes hers come from? 

  It could almost make me believe in reincarnation, I almost think she is an ‘old soul’ with a recycled heart, one that learned it’s lessons in past lives.  But of course, I’m too steeped in Bible Belt Christianity for that.As attractive a prospect as it would be to have more than one time around to try to get it right, I’m afraid that kind of Eastern thinking and my kind of Southern sensibilities could never really comfortably coexist.  I’m more inclined to indulge in another kind of magical thinking, and maybe if I wrap this theory in Christian terms like “grace”, it will go down easier with me. 

 What I wonder is this– could it be that somehow, as I gave birth to Madi Rose, and her sister Charlotte, that they gave birth to me too? That maybe a renewal started to happen in my heart, a softening around the experience-hardened edges, a slow fading away of lines and scars; kind of a cinematic time-dissolve into a younger, fresher, more childlike version? (I like to imagine it happening like those 70’s magazine ads where the rather tired-looking model applies the moisturizing cream in one picture, and then we are stunned by her youthful smiling face in the next picture!)  What if, simultaneously, a little of my hard-won wisdom and perspective could  somehow seep into my girlbaby’s consciousness as she rode around inside me, so close to my own heart?  What if she could be sort of prenatally inoculated, so that she would not necessarily be compelled to repeat every mistake and pitfall a trusting heart can fall prey to– boy, there’s a thought. 

 I think that’s the explanation I choose to believe.  That as this battered heart of mine learns to allow itself to remain tender and willing to be open in spite of the risks, somehow, divinely, at the same time, Madi Rose’s gentle soul grows strong and wise, and tough enough to survive. That she develops a bullshit detector and I figure out how to talk to animals.

The heart of a woman, the heart of a child.  The trick of it, the minor miracle, is to manage to have a little of both.


11 Responses

  1. dijea

    I truly enjoyed that! Could Madi Rose come help me talk to one of my cats? I just can’t figure out why he’s so skittish.

    I totally believe in the “old soul” regardless that its not your run-of-the-mill christian belief. My youngest reminds me so much of my grandfather and he had a look on his face that was soooooo Pop and instead of calling out Hunter. I say “Pop” and he looked up at me and said “Yes.” I know its probably just genetics, but he is so like my beloved Pop that I can’t just help but wonder.

  2. rockin robyn

    That was simply beautiful… what a wonderful study of your child back then.

    Not having children of my own I just see/witness so many parents that don’t even know their children, they don’t have a clue who they are or who they have the potential to become.

    I think there is something to be said about becoming parents later in life after living life and dealing with lifes battles and the scars earned from them… I think then those children are created to bring peace and a teaching to make life more simpler and serve more as a gift. Tori, you have such a beautiful and special read on your girls and it’s not a sickening brag on “your kids” either and if that is felt by just me as a reader of your “blog” I know it must be genuine. “that they gave birth to you too”… what an awesome thought and I think it could be true!

    I think Madi Rose is still talking to the animals… I commented on this before but I think that shark just wanted to kiss an angel here on earth and just got too aggressive with all those teeth!!

  3. LindaB

    Well, my goodness, THAT was BEAUTIFUL! When I feel all “lump-in-my-throaty”, I call my mother. YOU write an essay! That is very cool! And “literary”!

    You’re right, we mothers are sorta “born” anew when we have kids——-EVERYTHING is different then, we might as well! We even get a new name——MOMMY!

  4. themema

    Another beautiful example of your own tender heart and loving soul. One who never risks love and being hurt, never really lives. And one who can both feel and then write as you do, has a very special gift that comes from God.

    I agree with rockin robyn about the older parents. My parents were older…. Mom 39 and Dad 52 when I was his first born. Gads, Dad could have been my granddad, and I have come to realize that his wisdom was one of the greatest blessings of my life. I wish that my children had received the advantage of the wisdom one begins to attain a decade later than I was when I had to learn so much at their expense.

  5. morgitta

    You certainly have a way with words. I envie it.
    I recognise the fear for what life will bring to a sensitive child, even with the wisdom and strenght that seems to come along with it.
    It took me a lifetime to surrender to life in a way my kids are able to do in their twenties, but as the world gets crazier by the minute …
    I only had a brief encounter with Mady on the net, but she struck me as a wonderful person. She’s in my mind a lot.

  6. Barbara M. Lloyd

    The tender heart and the old-soul in Madi are what you sense immediately in this beautiful and seemingly wise-beyong-her-years young girl. I loved the story of her “listening” to the mother duck talk to her. It just shows that Madi hasn’t really changed much through the years. Even to the vocation she has chosen…..working with the less fortunate in life. I believe this precious daughter has taken the very best from her parents and she will take on the world with every confidence in her tomorrow.

  7. aerobertson

    Hi, Tori, I had the Christian TV station on when Russ was interviewed on M. Carullo’s program today. He spoke lovingly of your encouragement as he fought childhood demons. The past ten years as I have fought the memories of childhood incest, the Lord has used my husband to pour healing and unconditional love from God’s heart. It’s been years since we knew each other at HSHS. (I was the older and “sensitive” one.) Just know I will be praying that God will continually use yours and Russ’s brokeness to bring His healing to others. It definitely keeps us before Him. I appreciate both of you and your ministries. The PTL lyrics still encourage me; I share them verbatim with others. I loved your tender heart essay. God’s arm is not too short and His healing is always complete. In Him, Ann

  8. gracelynn

    That was absolutely beautiful and very heart touching Tori! And themema is right – Madi gets it honestly from her wonderful mother and father because you both have incredibly loving hearts. I look so often at some of the kids I teach and think how wonderful it would be to be able to turn back time and be that age again KNOWING what I know now. If only we could turn back time right? LOL Before the wounds of life have left us battle scarred and weary. It will almost make you envious to see a child like that.

    My heart goes out to you Ann. I suffered emotional and verbal abuse as a teen and it leaves lasting scars as well. I am thankful you have found a loving husband to help you through your battle. And God has certainly used and continue to use Tori and Russ in a powerful way to help me with mine.

  9. Ben Jones

    I really enjoyed the story and also got a great laugh out of it. With eight children ranging from 19 years to almost 2, my wife has so many stories too as you could well imagine. As I look at my oldest daughter if she were to marry soon, and my wife and I continue to have more children beyond # 9 which is due in January, my youngest child would be younger than my first grandchild. There are no prospects in the wings as of yet though. Anyway, I appreciate the way that you pay enough attention to your daughter and her mind that you wan’t to know what she is thinking, and care what she is thinking. I think that she and my 17 year old daughter Elizabeth would get along great. I have children that have had that same “Tender Heart”. Perhaps it has something to do with them having an excentric Southern Gospel Singing father too. My children give me a hard time about that sometimes, I am always singing and can’t seem to get enough. By the way while I am thinking about it, no I am not related to Guy and Angie (Elizabeth wouldn’t have her feelings hurt if she one day married into his family though. I have the girls and he has the boys. My count is 6 girls to 2 boys.) And when Russ introduced himself to me I think I did hear him call Bill dad. When I see Russ in November, how many glo sticks does he need?
    P.S Elizabeth want’s to know if Madi could e-mail her through my web site. If you need any references as to who I am you could ask any of the Beenes or Rodney Griffin.

  10. BrownEyedGirl

    That post is just beautiful. It warmed my heart. I’m speechless.


  11. belinda

    I love this story! Madi is such a sweetheart and such a great reflection of the parents who have raised her. She has two of the best examples on a daily basis to watch, learn from and to help her grow into such a wonderful young lady. You and Russ are two of the most loving and giving people. Madi is following in great footsteps.

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