Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On How a Spider Saved My Life


Dear Mackenzie,

People always say that the best way for a person to really understand the depth of his or her parent’s love for them is to have children of their own. It’s most certainly true. The prism through which you will view your mom and me as part of your childhood, Mackenzie, will reflect a very different hue once you become a caregiver too.

What could be more fulfilling to a parent, for example, than showing their kids how much they love them by showering them with affection?  The very thought of enveloping one’s child with hugs, kisses and the like is enough to make almost anyone feel warm and fuzzy. For a parent, it doesn’t get a lot better than that. In my experience, however, the converse isn’t true at all. 

A case in point: I still remember how when I was growing up, your grandma would try to hug me or kiss me at the most inopportune moments.  I hated it.  As I got a little older it didn’t feel like quite such an imposition, unless someone happened to be around when she tried to do it.  Then I would instantly shut down your grandma’s public display of affection.  “Stop that Mom”, I would whine. “What are you doing?” Your grandma is no longer with us of course, but what I wouldn’t give today to get a hug or a kiss from her. Publicly or otherwise.

Which brings me to you.

As you hurtle towards your teenage years, and given how willful and fiercely independent you are to begin with, I’m bracing myself for what my own parents and countless others have experienced through the ages. Hugs and kisses will hereafter be only grudgingly tolerated. Eye rolling will become more frequent and dramatic when I try. You’re going to be increasingly embarrassed by my stupid jokes (okay, fine, the whole family gets embarrassed by my stupid jokes but you know what I mean).  It’s already started.

Many years from now you may have a daughter of your own. Every so often she may push you away if you try to give her a hug.  Every so often she may tell you that she hates you, which depending on her age could mean anything from “I’m unhappy you’re not letting me eat a third cookie” to “I’m scared of the big bad world out there but don’t know how to tell you”.  Every so often she may even pretend not to know you when you pick her up from dance class, or she may demand that you don’t get out of the car.

Cognitively you’ll know she doesn’t mean any harm by it. You’ll remind yourself that like all normal, healthy young people she’s trying out different personas and reacting to the world around her. But no doubt it will still sting.

When that happens and you’re at the end of your rope, my sweet daughter, don’t hesitate to call your mom and me. We’ll happily talk you through it if we’re still reasonably lucid.  First we’ll instruct you to pour yourself a nice big glass of wine. That’s very helpful in these situations. Then we’ll remind you that parenting is not easy, and smile to ourselves at the notion that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Then a second glass of wine, this one for me, and I’ll tell you about the time I was so overflowing with love for you that I came up behind you and surprised you with a great big hug and kiss. You jumped off the couch as if I’d just stabbed you with a knife, and started to yell at me. In that moment I wasn’t self-possessed enough to process that your reaction had simply hurt my feelings. Instead I started yelling back at you and told you to go to your room until you were ready to apologize.  

You flew up the stairs crying that you hated me. The whole exchange took no more than thirty seconds but as you might imagine, it shook me to my core. How did an action emanating from a feeling of such love cause that horrible exchange? I sat in shock for about ten minutes, literally unable to move.

Suddenly you screamed “DADDY!!” at the top of your lungs with a tone of pure terror. As I sprinted up the steps you came running out of your bedroom.  “What’s wrong?” I asked, now in full protective mode.  You responded that there was a really big spider in your room.

Your expression was a combination of fear about the spider and of relief that I was there to handle it. I marched in to your room to assert my dominance over the offending arachnid, and when the coast was clear you jumped into my arms with an “I love you Daddy”. The exchange of a few minutes before now seemed like ancient history. As my spirits soared, I said a silent prayer of thanks that God had seen fit to put that spider there, and everything was once again right in the world. Well, maybe not for the spider.

The dynamics between parents and their children are complicated.  It’s the way of the world.  That’s the bad news, but it’s the good news too.

To this day, I sometimes feel badly when I think about moments in my childhood when I didn’t treat your grandparents as well as I should have, especially if it was in response to their showing me love. But now that I have daughters of my own I know first hand, as you will one day, that parents don’t hang on to “I hate you’s”.  They treasure “I love you Daddy’s” instead. And that’s a wonderful thing both for parents and for their children.

Drink your wine, take a deep breath, and tell your daughter you love her.

All my everlasting love,

Dad

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