She comes running through the party, dodging platters of watermelon, grown ups happily drinking wine, balloon animals littered about the lawn.
Her face already crumpling, her feet silently hurrying her pain towards me as quickly as she can, she's not making a sound. Yet.
She tumbles onto my lap, her body rigid with the exertion of keeping it all in. Her face buries into my neck, her hands in my hair, her feet pull up and only then, only once she's in her safest space does she allow the first wail to escape.
I know now not to ask just straight off. I hold her as she sobs, her little frame slowly softening as she lets it all out.
I know that this wound is of the heart. Some slight, humiliation or bruised ego too sore to manage in front of her playmates.
A pain that, for now, only Mum's lap can soothe.
Her self-control astounds me, and concerns me. That I am still her refuge touches me, and makes me feel vulnerable.
The tenderness of this young heart is pure, beautiful, painful and terrifying. I hold her close and the knowledge that I'll not always be there at the right time to do so breaks my tender mothering heart as I feel hers starting to heal.
She is small, but she is fierce. She is brave, but she is just little. My little complicated girl.