My husband dropped off a carload of boys. They appeared noisily in the backyard. I heard them before I saw them, as usual.
Then the phone rang. “Hey, I just dropped off the boys. You need to check on your boy. He wasn’t chosen for the talent show and he cried the whole way home.”
I peered out the kitchen window after I hung up the phone. Sure enough, my boy stood alone by the tire swing, clutching the chain with both hands, leaning his cheek on the metal links.
The other kids had all come bounding inside and were upstairs starting a video game. (“I call the green controller!”) I slid open the door and walked to my boy, this ten year old child with a broken heart.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Is there anything I can do for you?” I rubbed his back.
He turned a tear-stained face to me and said, “It’s just that when something really disappointing happens and everyone keeps talking about it that makes it so much worse!” His friends had tried to console him on the ten minute ride home and their very acts of boyish kindness turned my son into a sobbing mess.
I hugged him, told him I was sorry and that lots of times I wasn’t chosen for things either and that I knew how upsetting it was. “Do you want to stay out here for awhile?” Yes, he did.
The next time I glanced out the window, he was lying on his stomach on the tire swing, swaying slightly, weeping.
When I looked again, he was prone under the tire swing, chin propped on his hands, still crying.
A bit later, he’d rotated onto his back in the sandy playground mulch, still under the tire swing. His fleece jackets picked up bits of woody mulch. Now he not only looked sad, he also looked like he lived in the wilderness with Survivorman.
I thought wallowing in his sorrow was understandable and I’m all for feeling one’s feelings. However, after an hour of snotty distress, I suggested a bath. What better place to finish crying, right? He agreed and stood to his feet, so I brushed off the mulch from his front and back. I pushed his sweaty hair back from his reddened face and noted the snotty dirt clinging to the tip of his nose.
And so, while bathing, he finished mourning his lost dream of making his whole school laugh. When he finally appeared again, clean and in his right mind, all the neighborhood kids were gone. My husband had taken our daughter to visit a friend. The teenagers had gone to a movie. So, my boy and I were alone.
I baked brownies and when I brought him one, I said, “Shall we never speak of it again?” and he said, “Never.”
The problem with being optimistic is that from time to time, your expectations are crushed. When all your friends watch, the humiliation is almost more than you can bear. I know this because back in the day (before the Internet, IMAGINE!), I auditioned for music groups in college and was rejected. To this day, my writing is sometimes rejected for publication (when I manage to send it out). I know what it’s like to not be chosen.
The difference between me and my son is that he is still an optimist. Also? I have never wept while rolling in the dirt under a tire swing.
I wish I could protect my kids from this sort of distress. In fact, while he composed his comedy routine last weekend, I wanted to stop him. I wanted to tell him not to do it, not to try out. I wanted to warn him that being hit by a banana and saying “fo-shizzle” is just not funny. But his friends thought he was hilarious and furthermore, he thought he was oh-so-funny. Who am I to dent his confidence?
So I watched him go out into the world, figuring he’d return to me roughed up a bit. I hate this part of being a parent. Wouldn’t it be better just to keep the kids inside, remote control clutched in one hand, protected from what might happen out there?
Of course, it’s better to let them go, to be a safe place for them to return, even if they choose to cry while rolling in the dirt. Disappointment is part of life. I have better perspective than he does: I know that this is a small thing in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps next time I am a weeping mess, I will remember that perspective changes everything.
(And I must confess that I am sort of grateful that he wasn’t chosen because how much more humiliating might it have been if he performed his comedy routine and NO ONE LAUGHED in the whole school.)