Thursday, July 17, 2008

and just as easily carried away...

When a child is born, parents are as well. The parents -- no matter how many books they've read or how many classes they've attended -- are still just as new as the baby. Daddy may be awkward about holding his little girl, supporting her head; mommy might not be quick enough with her little automatic sprinkler's diaper changes. Still, there are some things that come instinctively. Some things are simply given. The job of "parent" is really quite straightforward: protect the child.

That is where we start.

But as time goes by and the child grows up, the parent realizes there's not enough bubble wrap in the world...

And then, one day, as quietly as a feather, the plain truth slips in: bubble wrap, an infinite supply, will do nothing to soften a blow to the heart.

Especially when you, the parent, let the strike slip.

* * *

Two days ago, as I was preparing dinner, our 4-year-old pulled a grimy feather from his pocket.

"Mommy, look what I got!"

"Oh, Sweetie, that's dirty. Put it in the trash and go wash your hands for dinner."

Whoa. Who said that? Me? The woman-once-girl who collected robins' egg shells, nests, feathers, who played with toads and tried to nurse abandoned baby birds back to health, who once carried a tiny iridescent lonely dragonfly wing back to camp for bonus points in a scavenger hunt? How could that same person tell her son to throw out a feather because it was dirty?

Still. It was, and it was dinner time. I'd flinched but given it little more thought. That is, until I noticed my son curled up on the couch, lip quivering, eyes welling.

I knew immediately that I had played the hand wrong. I put down my dish rag from wiping off the table and ran over to give him a hug and apologize.

"Oh, Sweetie, I'm sorry. I know that feather was a treasure and that it was special. But, really, they need to stay outside. They can have a lot of germs on them, and I don't want you to get sick from playing with them." (What I didn't say was, "I'm sorry, sweetie, your mother's a borderline hypochondriac and doesn't want you to catch some kind of avian flu...")

He looked at me with his big eyes, still welling.

"But Mommy, I was going to give it to you. What am I going to give you now?"

Oh! Rip my heart out and stomp on it a few times!

I don't remember exactly what came next besides tighter hugs and more apologies on my part. I physically ached and felt sick to my stomach. I had never seen my son so emotionally hurt.

And I had been the one to cause it.
I know this may have been the first time, but it definitely won't be the last. Knowing this heartbreak is only one of many within his lifetime doesn't make the incident any less painful. Even if he's moved on-- he's on the quest for the perfect "special stone" to give me -- I still feel that ache.

Bubble wrap can't protect either of us from these growing pains; no band-aid will hide these bumps and bruises.

Here's hoping the scars give him -- and me -- character.


kate said...

ouch. beautifully written - i feel the pain, having been both the squashed and the squasher. that old saw about 'words will never hurt me' - total load of crap, isn't it?

artjewl said...

Yeah, it's a total load o' bs.

As an update, this morning in our rush to get to daycare & work, he found & picked a dandelion before getting in the car. I love dandelions, and he knows this. :) Per his request, I happily wore it my hair (until I could put it in a little water at work). I think we're on good terms again.

Chucka Stone Designs said...

Sometimes instinct just seems to take over and there is no way to hold back what is on our minds as it comes out of our mouths. Although it may have hurt at the time it sounds like you are both really happy with the dandelion present and that is something you can scrapbook and keep forever with no risk of stray germies :)

Ginger said...

oh, sweet little boy! at least he's got a mom that pays attention and talks to him to acknowledge his affection instead of ignoring him and just telling him to suck it up......wait, do i sound bitter?

good job julie, he knows you love him and are there for him. that's what matters most.

artjewl said...

Jenn, I wish dandelions pressed better.

Ginger, rest assured our boys get their share of being ignored and told to suck it up. Especially on Sunday mornings, typically the only day my husband and I get to sleep in together. ;)

sunnyday said...

Aww, this story brought tears to my eyes!

It is easy to ignore some efforts made by kids. I remembered how, as a kid (maybe I was 8 or 9) I gave my older sister a kind of sponge cake for Christmas. It was just something I bought at the supermarket about 4 or 5 days before Christmas, which I found yummy and which I wanted my sister to taste. When Christmas morning came around and she opened my present, she thanked me and really showed how she appreciated my gift -- even though I realized years later that it was expired by the time she opened it haha! I don't remember if she ate it though :-)

I felt good knowing that I had shared something with my sister. And she didn't even wince or let out a condescending smile or laugh when she saw that it was past the expiration date. Funny now when I think about it...