My son wept today. Even though he’s six, such displays are rare with him. The tears were over a Lego creation he worked on for maybe an hour, tops, something he very generously called a Transformer. To me, it looked like it could be a Lego anything: a building, a sandwich, a tribute to Tetris.
“This right here? It’s a shooter. It grows at night, when the bad guys are out, like this—vvvvssshhoowwww, bachonk, bachonk—with wings that can’t be broken. AND it defends against rockets. Pah-kew! Pah-kew!”
He had just finished describing this terrifying beauty to me, in great and passionate detail, when he went running off, tripped, and sent the whole thing flying. When it landed on the ceramic tile in our kitchen, his creation shattered back into all its original pieces. There were maybe a hundred, all told. We had to get out the dustpan and everything.
The weeping that ensued wasn’t a goldfish-died kind of weeping, and he didn’t seem particularly interested in having an audience. It was more like a crop-is-ruined-better-get-a-second-job sort of stoic sadness you might see from a farmer at the end of a particularly bad summer. Yeah, things got kind of real for him for a few minutes there.
Instead of running to comfort him, I watched from the next room. I know he’s only six, but I wanted to see what he’d do with the ordeal. Because, you know, life is like that. Shit randomly breaks and goes wrong, and you can’t always repair it. Whether it’s shattered glass, a dropped egg, or something intangible, like a friendship, some breaks won’t mend. That’s a hard and important lesson to learn. This was a decidedly privileged and painless way to start teaching it. I’d be a fool to pass that up.
When I was in the fifth grade, I won a raffle for a beautiful porcelain figurine. Among the entire school population, there were only two winners—two such figurines—and to be one of those winners felt like winning a Pulitzer. I’m sure I didn’t think of it in those terms at the time, maybe more like meeting Olivia Newton-John or waking up with boobs. About five minutes after I retrieved the doll from the school office—she had this flowing blue gown, long black hair, and sultry eyes with eyeshadow—some kid on a BMX bike came tearing through the breezeway where I was standing, crashed into me, and sent her flying. She completely shattered, save for her sad head.
“Can we glue it?” I sobbed to my mom. She had witnessed the whole scene unfolding as she walked from her car to pick me up. “We can, right!?”
No way in hell could my mom put eight million shards of porcelain back together to look like Catherine Zeta-Jones in a ball gown. That doll couldn’t be glued. She couldn’t be replaced. It was time to let disappointments just be disappointing. My mom knew (or just learned) what I’m continuously learning: Parents can fix only so much, and that’s actually a good thing. Because real life has curves and ditches that cannot be avoided. You gotta practice for them when you can.
I could see that today was that kind of training day for my son. When he was ready, I took him up in my arms and hugged and kissed him and told him how much it sucks when something you work so hard on gets ruined. But I didn’t make it “all better” for him. I didn’t even try. That’s his job, and he figured out how to do it all by himself.