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.