One of the most common, and yet the most difficult, thing that any man or woman can do is to bring hardship or pain to someone they love.
Yet life tends to creep up and headbutt you with this sort of moment every so often, however.
My life, anyway. Mine and my beloved's.
Fortunately the mountains of agony are usually inselbergs, single peaks of loss and suffering so tall, so sharp and icy cold that you can feel your heart hang and tear on them, feel yourself swing out over the dizzying, horrible emptiness knowing that the weightless drop is only a caesura, a moment of suspended time before the final slip of the straining fingertips, the sickening swoop of the fall, the impact with the shattering wasteland below.
Much more common are the little daily speedbumps of conflict, the knolls, drumlins and kames of confrontation that make the day bumpy, that sends one to bed in tears and leaves the other shaking his or her head in rueful acceptance of that bump on the head, the small pellet of bitterness dissolving under the tongue, the residue of the collision between needs and wants, between greed and restriction.The Peeper had a nasty spill on one of these little bumps the other night, refusing to leave his computer game when it was time for bed, nastily arguing and finally spitting hateful words at his mom when she insisted gently that he listen to her instructions.
I was already in bed, exhausted after a long, cold day working in the rain. But the raised voices, and my little boy's vicious tone, brought me upright with my loathed reading glasses slipping down my nose as if they, too, wished to avoid the coming defenestration.
"Mister Peep?" I said in my sternest drill sergeant voice, "I need to see you in here for a moment."
There was a moment's awful silence and then the sound of a little boy bursting into tears.
"No, mommy, no! I'm sorry! I'm shutting it down, see! I'm listening to you! I'm listening!" and his mother's caustic reply "You're not listening to me, you're just afraid of your Daddy.", the truth of which was attested to by another rain band of weeping. It was a crumpled-faced little fellow that shuffled into the doorway of the bedroom pushed by his mother.
"I'msorrydaddyI'msorryreallyI'msorry!" he whimpered, fearing the dreadful punishment I represented more than honestly regretting his harsh words and unpleasant attitude towards his gentle and loving mother, who really does try and understand, cajole and entice him towards responsibility.
Unfortunately for him I am more of a kinetic sort of parent."Go and brush your teeth and get in your jammies and come back here, son." My level look always produces more floods of tears at this point, and it worked to its usual effect here. A sobbing child staggered off to the bathroom to ablute and dress for bed.
By the time her returned the fear had subsided to jerky sniffles, but the boy still refused to come sit by me, retreating to the end of the bed until I promised not to scare him AND his mother sat beside me. Then he crawled into our arms and lay snuffling soddenly.
"What are we going to do, little man?" I asked one pink ear "It's not OK to use mean words and be unkind to your mommy. When she asks you to do something, the best thing to do is do what she asks, or, if you have to, talk to her and explain why you don't want to do that thing."
The Peeper sat up, wiped his nose and looked at us earnestly.
"I don't want to be mean, daddymommy... (when excited, little man tends to conjoin his parents as a single noun)...I really don't, but...it's my brain does bad things."
"Your brain does this stuff itself?"
"I try and be nice, but my brain doesn't always listen!" His sweet, rounded little boy face was a model of sincerity, his eyes wide, his lip almost trembling. "I'm not being bad, I don't want to be mean, but my brain just DOES it..." He really believed what he was saying; perhaps what he was saying was the truth. As he saw it.
We both hugged him and told him we loved him.
We told him that part of being a Big Boy was mastering his brain when it was bad. Perhaps when he felt that brain trying to make him snarl hasty and angry things that he might put his hand over his mouth, count to ten, think of something nice until he could talk to his mom in a less angry tone. And that he would have to work hard at this, and in return his mom and I would be a little more patient, give him a little more time when asked to do things he didn't like to do, like putting away his toys, washing his feet, or trimming his fingernails. He agreed to try that.
So he went to bed, still sniffling a little but with a hint of a smile. He gave his mom a big hug, and me a slightly smaller one.
As I tucked him under his beloved (and now slightly frayed and dingy from all the love) "kitty" quilt he roiled a little under the covers."Sometimes I don't always like my brain, da-da." he said in his small "sleepy" voice.
"Yeah, I know, kiddo." I said, thinking of my stern voice and the face of a little boy reduced to fearful tears. "Sometimes I don't always like mine, either."
And I turned out the light.