I don’t mind if my kids are uncomfortable.
No, seriously. Of course, when they were babies and had dirty diapers and empty bellies, I dispatched those discomforts (those are the easy ones). But these days? If my sons find themselves in situations where they have to suck it up, wait, make do, play second fiddle, or just plain-old not get what they want when they want it (or at all), I sit back and watch rather than scramble to fix it. And that even goes for times the situation is pretty obviously unfair. (Because who promised fair? Not me, that’s for sure.)
Take two springs ago. It was my older son’s First Communion – he was the guy in the dark blue suit with the white ribbon on his arm and the gel in his hair, with his name on the cake and with him in all the photos. That left his younger brother on the sidelines. Oh, he’s in the pictures — with the most aggrieved puss on his face that I’d ever seen:
Oh, my heavens, but he was jealous!
So what did I do? Pull him aside and wheedle him into smiling for photos? Promise him an ice-cream tomorrow for some appropriately celebratory behavior today? My instinct was that had I indulged his ‘tude with anything other than a straightforward brush-off, I’d only foster the absurd impression that he deserved some sort of salve for what actually amounted to a pretty run-of-the-mill “slight,” the kind real life is rife with.
What I said, after we started up the post-ceremony party at our house, was “go get some cake and play with your cousins; it’ll be your turn in two years.” The unspoken subtext being, “get over yourself, short pants, because if you start thinking we love the big guy more than you, or that you deserve mollifying for a ‘bad’ day, you’re heading down a dangerous path and I ain’t going with you.” I have no intention of raising professional victims.
I’m glad I didn’t indulge his fit of pique that day. He wasn’t a baby in need of attention or unable to understand his second-place role; he was a pissed-off 5-year old! I refuse, categorically, to make excuses for my sons’ behavior, either in or out of their earshot, though to be sure the former is worse; to intervene, fix, smooth, or otherwise try to leapfrog them over any potential wrinkle in their roads. Because the road is just too full of wrinkles.
You start up with that stuff – the fixing, the apologias – and before you know it you’ve moved from “poor you, no one’s paying attention to you on your brother’s big day,” to “poor you, that college rejected you!” Whoops. When do they grow up, in between those two types of “poor you”? And how?
Is it too obvious to say that in order for children to grow up knowing that life is full of discomforts that one has to deal with, they have to actually, you know, experience discomfort? Sometimes you have to cool your heels on the side of the field because it’s not your game today, and no, you don’t get to play with Mom’s iPod to “make it better.” (And as an aside, what’s “better” than watching your sibling’s game, or dance recital, or piano lesson?) There doesn’t always have to be a snack for you. If the Munchkins are for your brother’s team (and don’t even get me started on why any of them need Munchkins after every game), you don’t get to dig in until last.
It’s not all even. Nothing is. Ever. And sometimes that sucks, and often that hurts. As one of my favorite lines in “The Princess Bride” goes, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”
If you’d been faced with Mr. Jealous Pants, what would you have done?