Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Breaking Your Kids' Things (But Hopefully Not Their Hearts)

I sometimes forget how much our kids rely on us as parents, and not just for the basics: food, clothing, shelter, protection, etc.  They rely on us to be Mom and Dad.  Mom comforts and assures and gives hugs and kisses and makes them feel better when they're sick, Dad explains how things work, scares the bullies away, fixes things, and makes things work again.

We're not supposed to break things, are we? Because - especially at this age - Mom and Dad are perfect. We supply everything they need, are the ones they immediately look to (in an ideal situation, and of course, not every situation is ideal) for answers.  And most of the time, even when the questions get a little more complicated - where do babies come from, why do people die, where's God live and did He make dinosaurs and people? - we have the answers.  We take care of stuff.  

We fix things.

And in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we take for granted how much of a bedrock assurance this is for our kids.  We take for granted what a prized position we hold - or, can and should hold - in our kids' eyes.

So breaking things comes as a sobering reminder that we're not perfect (who is?), that we face the inevitable occurrence of someday letting our children down, hurting them or disappointing them.  

This terrifies me, personally. I'm okay with disciplining my kids and them being unhappy with me because of this, or them not "liking me" (kind of planning on that teenage stage ahead of time, actually), because an important part of parenting is sticking to your guns, doing what's right - not what they want - and bracing for that inevitable teenage angst that's sure to come when they don't get their way.

But letting them down.

Making a mistake, give them a glaring example of how we're not perfect, and how sometimes we break things....

That hurts.

Yesterday, Madi wanted to take a blue bird egg - one of her prized possessions - into school for Show and Tell.  Abby had gone to work, so Madi and I were brainstorming ways to get the egg into school in one piece.  I thought putting it in an empty vitamin container would be a good idea. And it might've been, if I'd also stuffed it with cotton, or something.

I hadn't.

So, while trying to write in Sharpie on the bottle's side "Bluebird Egg", I fumbled the darn thing. Dropped it.

And my heart sank at Madi's soft, whispery little, "Oh, no."

I picked it up, and knew instantly by the sounds inside that her bluebird egg had shattered.  Felt even worse when she said, just as softly, "That's the only one I have."

There were no tears. I actually would've felt better if there had been. At age 7, Madi is already extremely talented at hiding her feelings.  Whenever she's upset about something personally, a blank look crosses her face, her voice gets soft and quiet...but then she covers right over it, and acts like everything is normal.  On one hand, at least it's good she's learned how to deal with her emotions so young.  On the other hand, I worry she represses too much when she should express her feelings, but that's another worry for another time.

Anyway, I felt devastated.  I was able to redirect Madi to something else for Show and Tell - an old feather she'd found out back (she's a collector of oddities and baubles, just as her Daddy is), and apparently her classmates were sufficiently "wowed" by that, theorizing that it was a bald eagle feather, or a Japanese Eagle feather.

But I felt bummed for the whole day. I'm Dad, after all.  I'm the guy who's supposed to fix things, right?  Not fumble and break them.  It's a haunting premonition, because it makes me wonder what other things down the road I'm going to fumble and 'break'.  What ways I'm going to let both my kids down and hurt them.  And wonder, if maybe I'll ever break something so bad, a big hug and a profuse apology won't be enough to fix it.

Probably a little overkill, but I'm keeping those bluebird egg shards in that bottle. I don't want to forget how easy it is to fumble and break stuff, when I'm supposed to fix stuff.  And I know it's going to happen, someday.  Hard to avoid. And I know that, even then, probably all I'll be able to offer is a huge hug and my profound apology.

But hopefully, that'll be enough.  And maybe, I'll be teaching them something, too.  That  we make mistakes and hurt others.  And when we do, we always face up, and ask for their forgiveness.   And maybe, that won't fix everything they face in the future.

But sometimes, there's nothing else you can do.