Which isn’t really anything new, except for one thing: This “bitch” was 3 1/2 years old.
(Watch the storm clouds roll in, people. It’s about to get real.)
It was the end of the year party in my daughter’s preschool–(Cue Sunrise Sunset and throw in a side of falafel and you get the idea.) And it’s kind of a big deal. My daughter has had quite a year. And while she’s weathered a shitstorm with a stalwart valor that humbles and inspires me, she is a sensitive child who survived some serious upheaval. And sometimes it shows.
For the first few months following our separation, she would sit by herself in gan (preschool) sucking her thumb. While the other kids were forming friendships and frolicking around the yard together, she kept her own counsel. But in early spring when the red poppies she has always admired started blooming, things began to change: She started making friends. She took her thumb out of her mouth and picked up a paint brush. And now, she comes home every afternoon covered with the imprints of a day spent playing in the dirt.
While most of my daughter’s friends in gan are boys, there’s this pale pink part of her that wants to be a ballerina. And I see how she looks at the other girls–how she admires their dresses and long flowy hair. So when the music for her favorite song started playing during the end of the year party and all the kids were pairing up to dance, I wasn’t surprised when she turned to one of the prettiest girls in the gan and extended her hand.
My heart lurched for her. I could feel her expectation–her hope, really–that this little girl would take her hand and dance with her.
But instead, the little bitch knocked my daughter’s hand away, and ran off giggling to join a gaggle of girls dancing on the other side of the room.
My daughter didn’t cry, exactly. She just stood there. Her face crumpled, and her eyes shone like river rocks, gleaming from a pain so exquisite that I could feel it radiate through me.
And while the staff at the gan handled the incident beautifully, it didn’t matter. My daughter was hurting. And after hugging her, all I wanted to do was grab the little girl who broke my daughter’s heart and throttle her.
Maybe some of you think I’m overreacting.
But maybe some of you can also understand how I feel. Because if you have kids, then you know what it’s like to watch your child get smacked upside the head in the sandbox, or pushed down by the asshole 7-year-old who outweighs him by at least 20 pounds. You know what it’s like to watch your child get teased or left out, or hurt by words more damaging than sticks and stones. You get it. And you know what it’s like to watch your child’s face crumple when she’s been kicked inside. Hard.
You feel it, right in that soft spot below your belly button.
And maybe you even know what it’s like to call a 3 ½-year-old a little bitch, and really mean it, and not feel ashamed for it either, even when your Facebook friends tell you that you’re overreacting or being just a little creepy.
Because Renee Septimus is right: Birth is the easy part. That searing pain that tears your body in two is nothing compared with the agony that comes from watching your child get hurt. Because physical pain is transient and has a beginning, middle, and end. But so long as you are alive, and so long as your child is alive, the existential feeling that comes from parenting–agony and the ecstasy of it all–will never go away.
And here’s the really hard part: You can’t always be there. And even if you are there, you shouldn’t always be there.
Look. You’ll never hear me say, “life sucks,” because I simply don’t believe that to be true. But having lived a little, I do know that shit happens. And I know that in order to grow, you need to get beaten up a little. And as much as I want to protect my child–and as much as I’m sure you want to protect yours–eventually, they have to be part of this world. And while I believe that people are fundamentally good, our kids must still be prepared to face down whatever curveballs get thrown at them. And throw them back if need be.
Because–cliche alert–it is all part of life. And if we want our kids to experience a full life, then we have to let go and let them get hurt, just so long as they know that no matter what, we’ve got their back.