There were time when I was a kid, when my mom would rave about something I’d done or tell me how beautiful I looked, that I really felt she was patronizing me. Not that I could have identified that feeling at the time, but the falseness echoed in my ears. She can’t really mean that, I’d mutter inside. She can’t possibly be so blind.
As a parent, I’m starting to understand that it isn’t always false. Blind, maybe, but not false. I see my kids and think they’re incredible. I recognize their character flaws, often because they share them with me or B, but they are always overshadowed by their fabulousness: M’s willingness to share, his great sense of humor, his energy and creativity; K’s intrepid nature, her free-flowing smiles, her eagerness to participate. I can’t imagine how anyone could not want to be around them, at least a good portion of the time.
But the thing is, I know how kids are. I remember being told that I was no longer a friend. I remember being made fun of. I remember being excluded. I remember the painful lump in the throat and the burn of tears held steadfastly behind red eyes.
I saw it yesterday for the first time. M has a couple friends with which he plays frequently. The three of them have known each other since before their first birthdays. Most of the time they play together so nicely. But the other two are girls, and he’s a boy, and the differences that have had so little effect in the past are starting to hedge in. The girls dance around as princesses, as M fights fires. M charges off down a hill while the girls shimmy down in hesitation. The girls spin through ring-around-the-rosy; M prefers to hack at the sand with his shovel. Every time I see this two-on-one divide, my stomach sinks.
And then yesterday, as we were leaving a restaurant, the two girls joined hands and headed down the path. M hurried alongside, reaching out for a free hand. Both girls withdrew, pushing past him with their shoulders and whispering conspiratorily. He didn’t see it, just laughed and ran on ahead. But I got a glimpse of the future, and that burning feeling came right back, fresh as if I were in elementary school all over.
I thought it was bad enough to live through that pain once. How cruel, then, to have to live it all over again, only though the experience of the two people you think deserve it least of anyone in the whole world? I hear my mother’s words, her encouragement, her support, and realize that she meant every last syllable. I’ll mean them too, when I say the same thing. That anyone could see otherwise–even though I know, sadly, that they certainly will–is already beyond me.
I hope they have good friends, dear friends, sweet friends, and that they are good, dear, and sweet in return. But like so much I face as a parent, it’s out of my control. All I can do is whisper those words, wipes those tears, and hold the hand when no one else will. It won’t be the same–hey, it probably won’t even be appreciated–but maybe someday they’ll see that it wasn’t just about them.