My brother Sean just wrote an interesting blog about his 2-year-old Barnaby, specifically after a hot radiator scared Barno and Sean tried to comfort him. This led Sean to ruminate on how we were either helped or failed by our own parents in that respect – an eternal tightrope act, the effort it takes to balance your desire to shelter your child from all harm, and the (occasionally unconscious) wish for him/her to get over it and grow some skin.
I think Sean and I will always fall pretty heavily on the protectionist side, partly because we felt our own childhood was shaped by benevolent wolves, and – not to speak for my brother – but I feel like my having children is such a blessing of unbelievable luck that I’m hardly ever willing to create a School of Hard Knocks for Hard Knock’s Sake.
Life is hard enough when you get older; there are plenty of ways our kids will be pushed to the limits of their sanity through their social worlds, their jobs, money, alcohol, drugs, war, or the vicissitudes of an unknown future – so I find the nickel-and-dime “stop whining” parent mentality to be vaguely creepy. In Tessa’s movie Five Wives, her 89-year-old father Blakey is on a couch with one of his granddaughters, then about ten months old. She kinda falls off part of the couch, and her mother rushes to get her, but Blakey gruffly stops her, saying, “Oh leave her. She’s tough as a boot.”
Ever since, Tessa and I always use the phrase “She’s tough as a boot” for pretty much any situation where a helpless creature is expected to show incredible strength and fortitude for no reason. But alas, again, I digress.
Case at hand, Lucy just started her first sport: a tennis class with a gaggle of other 3-year-olds. Actually, calling it “tennis” is a stretch – more like a lot of munchkins swinging racquets in space and occasionally hitting one of 17.5 million balls. My brother Steve gave me the highlight: one time a little girl smacked a tennis ball that hit the teacher’s cap and then bounced into the tennis ball basket. Hilarity – and I mean hilarity – ensued.
So Lucy was swinging her tennis racquet with the insouciance of someone getting to swing something for the first time, and hit one of the boys in her class. He collapsed in 3-year-old agony, and then the teacher – a haggard, no-shit older German woman – descended on Lucy and shamed her immediately. So Lucy, who is not a big crier, collapsed onto the court as well, bathed in misery and sobbing uncontrollably with disgrace.
Tessa ran and picked Lucy up, saying, “it’s okay, honey, you didn’t mean to do anything wrong.” And of course Herr Tënnis Tëacher said “She DID do something wrong, she hit that boy with a tennis racquet.” At this point, I think to myself – fair enough, if we’re in a criminal court with adults, but this is a fucking tennis court with toddlers.
My immediate impulse? Swoop up the family, get the fucking fuck OUT of there, go to Baskin Robbins, get an ice cream cake, go home, and walk on our carpet with muddy shoes. Instead, Tessa just asked Lucy if she still wanted to play tennis. Eyes cast downward, she nodded. And went back to her place in line, racquet in hand. Minutes later, the teacher – showing a little more depth than credited – asked her if she wanted to come to the front. And Lucy did, hitting three balls in a row over the net.
Later at dinner, I asked Lucy if she had fun today. “Yes,” she said, “soccer is very fun.”
“Um, don’t you mean tennis?”
“Yes. Actually, I’m a very good tennis player.”
“Did you like your lessons?”
“Yes, but actually I already knew how to play tennis.”
And then she told me about the friends she made, and how she was looking forward to next week. No mention of the boy, no mention of the teacher. And if I had called the shots, I would have probably whisked her out of there before any of that redemption – or even forgetting – could have taken place.
I pride myself on being a protector, I have many safety plans in place in case of a national emergency, and when there’s a strange noise outside at night, I’m out there with an aluminum baseball bat within 2.8 seconds. But for those of us slightly-damaged knights in shining armor who grew up feeling vulnerable, the message is clear: sometimes your damsel doesn’t want to be rescued.
Lucy with her Uncle Steve yesterday