Life is hard. It doesn't matter where you're from or whether you were born with a silver spoon or a wooden nickel in your mouth, your life is just a different kind of hard from the next guy's. But in the end, it's all relative.
What makes the difference is how we handle the roughest aspects of life. Much of what determines this is personality, but credit (or blame) also has to be given to parents, for the tools we give our children in everyday life. For example.
You're at a little league baseball game with your reluctant 8-year-old. Getting him into his uniform involved a lot of yelling and whining, and not just on his part. Getting him to the practice was, shall we say, a challenge. Getting him out of the car and onto the field caused the two of you to 'have words' and some of those words included, "I hate you, Mom."
Now that you have the backstory, we'll move onto the setting. It's about 87 degrees outside. You're late for the game (see previous paragraph). Your son's uniform includes knee-high tube socks, long polyester pants, a t-shirt and hat, baseball mitt and, er, insurance that I may someday be blessed with grandchildren. Yes, the 8-year-old has to wear a cup. We are sweating before we reach the field. The amazingly patient coach is urging your child into left field, the grassy area that has the most bugs to watch because, really, what the heck else would you do if you were an 8-year-old boy standing in a grassy field? Watch for flies (from home plate)? Yes, well mine looks for ants by his shoes.
So when a bouncing grounder ends up hitting him in the knee and the tears begin to flow, I stand up. the coach heads out there and tries to get my son to shake it off, makes sure there's no blood, he can bend his knee, walk around, etc. All good, no need to call an ambulance. The inning continues.
Once the team heads back to the dugout and I am summoned to see how he's doing, my son asks me, "Mom, can I go home?"
"Oh, Sweetie, the team needs you here with them."
"Then can I have an ice cream after, since I got hurt?"
I have to say right here that if this had been my firstborn, I would very likely have reminded him that a mom's kisses are MUCH better for healing injuries than ice cream, even if it is ice cream at 11:00 in the morning. It's close, but kisses are actually better.
And he would have very likely said, "OK" and taken two or maybe even three of those kisses and been fine. More likely, he would never have asked the question at all.
But this is my second-born, my every-aspect-of-my-life-is-so-very-hard, please-can-we-make-it-a-little-less-hard-with-sugar? boy. And one would think, having had this conversation more than one or two (million) times before, that he would know the answer, because he lives in the same house with the same rules as his older brother.
The problem is that he also knows his mother.
In fact, he knows his mother so well that he would never ask such a question of his father, because his father is not nearly as malleable when it comes to such things. That's a nice way of saying his father's not a pushover.
The day I realized I had in fact become one of those mothers who caves to her child's requests to avoid a fight, a scene, a screaming match that sucks all the life out of her, it was too late. And I knew it was too late because I almost didn't care that this is what had become of me.
But when I sat down to think about which came first, the chicken or the screamer, I realize the answer was probably 'the screamer.' Because I could handle resistence from my older boy: it was half-hearted, short-lived and manageable. And of course, his brother has been the complete opposite, so I was not only ill-prepared for his persistence, I was even less ready for the heights to which he would raise the stakes. A meltdown over a video game? A crying fit because it's not dessert night? Seriously? Handling this did not fall within my job experience.
The good news is that, though I recognize how I have been perpetuating the situation, I also said that I *almost* didn't care that this is what has become of me. And although 'almost' usually only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, it is enough to keep me in the realm of logical thinking. That niggling feeling that continuing this behavior on my part is only going to cause one of us to move out before my son turns 13 just never goes away. It's my reminder that things are only going to get worse, so what better time than now to try to turn the situation around?
"No, Ben," I told him. "No ice cream in the morning. We can always have ice cream after dinner tonight. Now let me take a look at that knee."
This behavior has been going on since Ben was born, so it's pretty ingrained in both of us now. But if standing up a little harder and longer than I ever had to with his brother will help tip things back into balance--where I'm the boss and he has to listen--I'm willing to give it a try, for both our sakes.
After a big "Awwwww!" of protest, Ben actually let the matter drop.
I exhaled, thankful that I could still make a stand, and that Ben was still young enough to accept it without trying to push me over. Maybe there's hope for us yet.