Friday, December 23, 2011


"If I can stop one heart from breaking/I shall not live in vain/If I can ease one life the aching/or cool one pain/or help one fainting robin/unto his nest again/I shall not live in vain." --Emily Dickinson

A few weeks ago, after a local Junior Miss competition which my daughter did not win, she came home in tears. She was okay with not winning, but the pain on her face was from another, more devastating source. The friends who promised to come and cheer her on did not show up. Even the friends who have been with her through high school didn't come. For reasons only God knows, they didn't comprehend the importance of this occasion. Still wearing her competition- white flowy dress with silver sparkles and strappy high heels, she cried with the loss not of the competition but of expectations and loyalty. I thank God for Paige and Cianna, Olivia's best friends in the world who did come, helping our family to form a small but devoted fan base. I don't know why her other friends misunderstood the enormity of this important event in Olivia's life, but I do hold out hope that it will forever pain them once they grow up and reflect. (Kind of like my sister, Cathy, who still winces when she remembers the college memory of telling a perfectly nice girl arriving with suitcases and pillows that she didn't want a roommate. Oh the sting of rejection that girl must have felt!)
 To be sure, if it had been one of them in the competition, Olivia would have moved heaven and earth to be there. I reminded her that it had more to do with their issues and failures than with anything attributed to her.
The next day, she had already forgiven them. She is a better person than I, because I gave some serious thought to finding them and describing Olivia's tear-streaked face and her voice as she choked the words out, "My friends didn't come". My finger wagging in their faces, I imagined saying something I'd regret like, "What the f--- is the matter with you?" They made my kid cry and I don't forgive that easily.
There is nothing in the world more painful than seeing your children hurting.
One summer day when Cliff was ten years old, Ken and I had Cliff and Max outside playing on their riding toys. We lived near Albany at the time, and got along with all our neighbors. Next door we noticed a car in the driveway, stopping long enough to deposit a little boy carrying a festive-looking birthday gift and a sleeping bag. Before long, there was a parade of cars and boys bearing presents and knapsacks. My neighbors came out and greeted each one, the boys tearing off to the balloon-stocked backyard where a Bouncy House sat, with its red and yellow turrets and green bouncy slide. It was only the crowning epitome of birthday fun, and I don't have to tell you how longingly my kids looked at it. The entire time, Cliff stood facing Brandon's house, mesmerized by and smiling at the joyful shouts of kids and celebratory inclinations. I watched his smile fade with the slow dawning of understanding: His friend Brandon was having a birthday party and Cliff was not invited. I understood that Cliff probably couldn't handle a sleepover, but for God's sake, couldn't they invite him into the Bouncy House? Had him stop by for a piece of cake? Really, how hard could that have been? The choice they made forever changed the relationship we had with them. The mother has been dead for many years now, but I still struggle to forget what she did.
Naturally, no child is immune to disappointment. When I recall the time Max had a birthday sleepover with four friends for his tenth birthday, I push the thoughts away. I can't bear it. The story goes that Max had a fun time with these boys during the afternoon and had looked forward to having them pile into his room for a sleepover. There were games and popcorn and the expectation of staying up late. But around 8:00 when one of the boys realized he missed his mommy, I had to call her to pick him up. Well, that started a firestorm of three more upset boys, thus forcing the party to end prematurely. I hate that I remember Max's look of disappointment. When I bring it up, Max tells me, "Mom, I'm over it!" (He's 20 now)That helps a little.
I've spent so much of my life with my kids trying to protect them from hurt, even though I know the impossibility of this particular assignment. And with the passing of years I understand there is no protection, no exclusion from disappointment, no possibility of walking through life unscathed. It's finally sunk in that every life event, whether it's filled with sadness or with joy, devastation or victory, it is all necessary for growth. These things must happen in order to help us bear up when we have no one but ourselves to depend on. How does one learn to cope without having experienced pain?
Meeting challenge with strength. That sounds good to me.  If they can take away the lessons learned from disloyal friends, the cruel intentions of neighbors, or the disappointment that stems from a failing grade or a lost competiton, they'll hopefully avoid plunging into the depths of despair.
And perhaps I won't have to dwell quite so much on just how much I want to slap someone's face.

"Our life's a stage, a comedy: either learn to play and take it lightly, or bear its troubles patiently." Palladas