A problem for the inchworm

Mallory: Mommy mommy, I brought an inchworm into the house, but it got lost in the couch.

Me: Well, that's a problem.

Mallory: Yeah...but I think it's mostly a problem for the inchworm.

We took the kids to see Monsters vs Aliens last week -- which was spring break -- and Mallory left the theatre in a bit of a sulk because she found the movie "too scary." She brightened when she saw the bank of vending machines -- the ones that vend cheap plastic treats, not candy -- at the theatre exit, and asked if she could get something. Chris gave her a quarter, and she spent many long minutes trying to decide if she wanted a flower tattoo or a teeny farm animal or a wee little monkey. She finally settled on the monkey; she put in her quarter, turned the dial, and out came...a flower ring. "This isn't right," she said. "Them's the breaks," Chris said, essentially. Phoebe also wanted a monkey, so she put her quarter in the same machine, and out came...an actual monkey. Mallory, of course, shouted, "That's not fair!" I scrounged around for another quarter and told her that she could have one more shot. In went the quarter, out came...another ring. Mallory was bereft. We refused to let her try again (reasons we gave: waste of money, monkey not that great of a prize anyway, monkey will get lost in ten minutes, you get what you get and you don't throw a fit). She remained in a foul mood about the monkey for about an hour.

It's hard for me, when things like this happen. Her little face was so sad, it was all I could do not to empty out my wallet so she could keep trying. I know how these little hurts stay with you and magnify in importance, so that in ten years the Loss of the Monkey will be one of the defining moments in her miserable childhood. My moment was at the ominously named Inn of the Mountain Gods, a resort in Ruidoso, New Mexico. We never stayed at this resort -- my grandparents had their own place in Ruidoso -- but for some reason, we stopped there for a visit one summer when I was four, five years old. Jana and I ran off to the playground while my parents did whatever they were doing (something golf-related, presumably). The playground had a huge, circular slide -- the kind my kids call a macaroni slide -- the likes of which I had never seen. At first, I was too afraid to try the slide -- it was so high! so curvy! Jana slid and said it was glorious. I still hung back. Finally, finally, I gathered up my courage. I went to the ladder. Another little boy was climbing up; I started up behind him. But when he got to the top, he freaked out. He started to cry; he wanted to get down. "Let me off!" he yelled at me. I backed down the ladder -- and as soon as I got to the bottom, I heard my dad calling me. It was time to go. "But I want to slide!" I shouted back. No, it was time to leave that instant.

I was crushed. I was angry at the little sissy boy who wrecked my chances, but mostly I was just so, so sad that I wasn't able to try out that slide. I'm sure I was in a fine sulk for an hour or two after that.

Hindsight tells me, of course, that if I'd had a little bit more gumption, I just would've climbed up and slid down and THEN explained to my dad -- who probably wouldn't have been too put out anyway -- that it was my first time on the slide, and then added about the little sissy boy, and I wouldn't have been punished for not obeying right away -- in fact, probably I was more mad at myself for my lack of courage than anything else. Additionally -- we probably did something tremendously fun after leaving that playground. We might have gone swimming, or rollerskating, or bumper-boat riding. But all I remember is what I didn't get to do.

I hope that Mallory remembers all the fun family time we spent on Spring Break of her first grade year. But she'll probably just remember that she didn't get a monkey.

A writer I like quite a lot, who is also a mother, described the secret to parenting thus: "Treat every moment with your child as though it is the only moment he or she will remember." When I read this, I was struck by how this advice is simultaneously precisely right and completely impossible. I try to treat my children, in every moment, with love and respect and good humor and patience and empathy. But I'm also human -- and I don't think it's wrong for my children to see that sometimes I lose my temper, I get frustrated, I need a break. And if my worst moments are what my kids remember when they get older -- well, all I can hope is that someday they'll have kids of their own, and then they'll understand.


aimee said...

Yes, the problem with that advice is that every moment you lose your temper, or won't let them try to get the monkey, ect. will haunt you--is this the moment they will always remember? But what about that moment before when we were having so much fun?


And even if Mallory will always remember Spring Break 2009 as the one without a monkey, she will have many more good memories of great fun. :)

Anonymous said...

You have the most phenomenal memory! I don't remember ever taking any of you to the Inn! Guess that I wasn't disappointed about anything!


MomofK9s said...

Well, I saw the monkey in question AND it was pretty cute. BUT, hopefully she will remember how much you all had over spring break and how much fun we had at the Daisy Diggit. P.S. I am still hot, thirsty and itchy from imaginary ticks from the outing! :-)