When I was 16 going on 17, I had a pretty solid gig babysitting for three wonderful kids. The youngest was nine-months-old and I learned a lot of what I know about babies from him. Of course, I promptly forgot everything I learned about babies when I went off to college, and things have changed so much in the last ten years, so I was properly befuddled when the nurses handed me a newborn Scarlet. They wanted me to…hold her…and care for her…and raise her? Insanity.
And how trusting were those parents I babysat for? Leaving their precious baby with a 16-year-old who had never held a baby and who had semi-recently spent her life in worship of The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Wow. That’s brave.
One night, the baby’s father came home from work early and we talked while the baby watched “Sesame Street.” I was pretty young at the time and I still thought the world was my oyster, and that my oyster was made out of cookies, puppies and rainbows. Not that I didn’t know tragedy and grit…it’s just that my cookies, puppies and rainbows were a lot stronger back then. Despite that, our conversation has stayed with me so I must have stored it in my brain under, “Things You May Need to Know One Day.” He said, and this is pretty much verbatim, “I get sad sometimes when I see him watching Elmo and laughing. It’s just that he’s so…cute. And innocent. And the world is full of bad stuff and bad people that I’ll have to talk to him about one day. And I don’t want to. Ever.” That baby is now a teenager and is doing darn well. I’ll always remember how honest his father was about his fears that night.
I get it now.
I’m sure every new parent thinks about how they’ll confront the issues of when and how to talk to their children about life. And I’m sure mostly every new parent finds that it doesn’t quite go the way they think it will. How could it? Life throws too many curveballs. And the emerging personalities of children probably change a lot of plans as well.
There’s crime and “bad” guys. And that’s not even a black and white topic to approach. Sometimes good people commit crimes. Sometimes bad people don’t. Maybe everyone in this world is mixed parts of “good” and “bad.” And people change too. And then change again. How in the heck do I explain all of that to Scarlet? And when? Do I tell her too early because I want her to be savvy, with the knowledge she may grow up too fast, too soon? Do I wait and hold onto the illusion of a world full of only good, trustworthy people, with the knowledge she may find out sooner than I tell her and feel like a fool?
Then there’s death. I’m not sure what my mom’s original plans were to talk to me about death and loss. Unfortunately, those original plans were scrapped when my father collapsed in front of me and never came back again. She had her pain to deal with. And my confusion and subsequent pain.
It’s not just about the ugly truths in life. I’m not just talking about crime and tragedy. This whole post was started in my mind after a conversation with my mother-in-law about a previous post in my blog about Post Traumatic Stress and how we all have it throughout life, even if we’ve never experienced a large tragedy. Life, as my mother-in-law said, is a mixed bag. There is pain and happiness all of the time, everywhere around us.
Maybe Scarlet will never experience loss for the first several years of her life. Maybe she’ll never witness a crime or have one happen to anyone she knows for the first several years of her life. But there are things I will want to tell her about change and growth. And my ideas about life and my ideas about how I will talk to her will change 17,000 times before she’s old enough to have these conversations. That gives me a lot of time to obsess over every detail.
Even when life is going well and there are no roadblocks or tragedies to speak of, we mark our change and growth with celebrations and parties. Graduations. Events. Graduating kindergarten and going full time to school. Graduating high school and then college. Marriage. Having children. And other events and other paths in life. These occasions are marked by society as happy but there are plenty of conflicting emotions that come along with them. I was happy to go to first grade, but devastated to leave the comforts of everything I had known before then. The same goes for high school and college. I was happy to get married, but anxious about my changing relationship with my parents, who had previously been my rock and my go-to place. Having children? Don’t even get me started on the change and growth of having children.
Growing pains. I won’t tell Scarlet that life is a downer but I will tell her that it’s ok to hurt sometimes through happy times. And that it’s ok to find happiness through hard times. I’ll tell her that it means that she’s caring and sensitive and self-aware. I’ll be proud of her while I wipe away her tears when life hurts her heart. I may cry myself to sleep at night but I’ll be so proud of her sensitivity. I’ll be proud of her awareness that negative emotions need to be processed, not hidden. I’ll be proud that she’s not pretending her way through life.
One day I’ll have to tell her that every big move she’ll make in life may hurt a little. Or a lot. And that’s if she’s lucky.