Once, when my son was three or so, I overheard him talking to himself while we were getting ready for work/preschool.
“This is gonna be fun!” he said.
So I had to look. He had gathered up some plastic Easter eggs, and was smiling at them.
“What’s gonna be fun?” I asked, overwhelmed, as always, by his beautiful little smile at some delight he found on his own.
“I will play with these with my friends.”
Oh no. His school had a prison-strict policy against bringing toys to school.
“Oh, sweetie, you know you can’t take those to school right?”
“OK,” he said. And he was fine. It was fine. But I wasn’t. I felt like I had killed a small creature, his little hope creature, his little fun creature. I have no idea what he was planning to do with the eggs, but it would have made him happy, and even better, he would have shared with his friends and made them happy. And I couldn’t let him. It crushed me.
I know I can’t give him everything he wants. There are some things he wants that aren’t good for him: lots of sweets, no bedtime, a pet dragon. There are some things he wants that wouldn’t really contribute anything to his life, like another truckload of toys. But these little plans, his own first victories, his fledgling imaginations, these are the things that I want him to have, that I feel like a monster for keeping from him.
I took him to school, sans eggs, and cried all the way to work.
Yesterday at camp, my boy missed out on popcorn. Popcorn is a treat, so much tastier because it is special, made just for movie time. He came in late, and the popcorn was already doled out, and the rules say he has to stay seated.
He told me about it last night, and already, already at four, he’s learning to hide his small heartaches. He didn’t want to look at me when he told me, and he tried not to let his voice shake or that tear escape. And I hugged him, and he hugged me hard. Thank goodness we still have that. I wanted my hug to tell him that it mattered. I knew it was more than popcorn.
This morning I asked his teacher what was the right thing to do if he comes in late from another activity and the popcorn is already handed out.
This woman, who I would now like to adopt into my family, gasped. She covered her mouth in horror.
“WHAT? OH NO!! HE DIDN’T GET POPCORN?? Oh, punkin, I’m SO sorry!!”
She looked like she would cry. I felt like I would cry. She understands. And my little boy’s heart is safe with her for the summer.
It all sounds trite, plastic eggs and popcorn. And my soul bleeds for the moms and dads who cry because they can’t feed their children, or can’t see their children, or have to work so many hours that they can’t be sure their care providers are safe, much less concerned about whether or not they get a cup of popcorn.
I know how lucky I am to have the luxury of crying over these little things. Maybe I should toughen up. But maybe if I can do a better job with these things, I can raise a compassionate person who wants to help solve the world’s problems. Or at least one who will hug his own child when she or he cries over popcorn and plastic eggs.