It could be the sight of your three-year-old stuck perpetually behind a binkie when nobody else's child is using a binkie. Suddenly, you are certain that everyone is staring at your child, who you are certain will wind up one of those horrendous teenagers who sucks on a pacifier-like piece of candy.
This happened to a friend of mine. Her blood-pressure spiking, she popped the bink from her toddler's mouth, and thus ushered in an hour's long tantrum, all through his preschool day.
|I know. It hurts to look at it.|
On the way home she saw a teenager covered with safety pins. Soon enough, she realized, her child would be a young adult, and his body would be his own. He'd be able to pierce it, tattoo it, whatever he wanted, and she would not be able to do a damned thing about it.
She gave her toddler back his bink.
Or, as my cousin said, through her tears as her oldest walked down the aisle, "He really did potty train before he got married."
Or take last night, at a baseball game with people from work. An acquaintance was upset that her four-year-old daughter had sidled past her, hiding the bag of Hershey's kisses. Suddenly, this caring mom envisioned her sweet little creature at sixteen, sneaking out the window to have sex with a boy.
How could her daughter do that? The girl should be able to talk with her mother. About absolutely everything. Even about having sex with a boy, Maggie yelled at daughter, lecturing her, while loudly saying, "I'm not angry. But you have to tell me everything. Then I won't get angry. Don't hide things from me." While, of course, the little girl learns the exact opposite.
But last night, I also met a family with a child in a wheelchair. Someone whispered in my ear: "She's got this disease that means she won't be able to walk at all soon, and then, she won't be able to eat, and she'll die before she's twelve."
I bent over the little girl, admiring her earrings. "Oh, aren't you lucky," I said. "I won't let my daughter get her ears pierced." And I felt a jolt--I won't let my daughter get her ears pierced yet, is what I meant. But this little girl's family doesn't have the luxury of a yet. They can't leap to the future. If she wants her ears pierced, the time to do it is now. Right now. While she can still be aware. While she can still enjoy it.
Nearly impossible lessons for a family to learn--the big sister, Mom, Dad and the little one in the wheelchair. When my oldest was two, a little boy in our neighborhood, born two weeks later, needed surgery and chemo for a cancer in his abdomen. We gave him a terrific playmobil set of a hospital room, and my husband was the first person he would walk with, after he was finally allowed home, his little hand grasping my husband's giant first finger as he took those first after-surgery steps. His mom said,
"When he gets to be a teenager, he can tattoo himself all over his face, he can drop out of high school, he can listen to heavy metal--as long as he gets to be a teenager."
But at least, in that case, my friend could be hopeful--and, in fact, her son is inching up on those teens as we speak, considered cured.
Plus, I have very good reasons not to want my daughter's ears pierced, beginning with the intense pressure on girls to be about their appearance, moving on into cost and infections and ending up with a kind of knee-jerk reaction that I always have about things like piercings and tattoos. (Listen, I got my ears pierced when I was twenty-eight, with much foot-dragging even then.)
But the truth is, as this family knows more than any of the rest of us, that we can plan for the future and try to learn from the past, but the only time we really have is right here, right now.
Maybe I should get her ears pierced. Maybe.