Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oh, For Crying Out Loud, Just Let My Kid Hold a Bunny!

When a kid cries, I want to cry, too.

I have a bit of a tender heart and anyone shedding tears, for any reason, makes my own waterworks start to turn on. But if the person doing the crying is under the age of 12, and is crying because his or her heart has been broken, I become a blubbery mess because my heart aches for them.

Shh. Don't tell anyone. It will totally blow my cover as a cold, heartless, cranky librarian.

The day before Easter we took Ainsley to a little party held at the "family recreation center" (basically, a fitness club that tries really hard to keep the kiddos entertained and healthy as well as the adults) we belong to. Among the other attractions for the little ones was a very small petting zoo where kids could pet and hold chicks, baby ducks, and bunnies.

Ainsley plopped down in a circle of kids all passing a little white bunny around. New kids kept joining the circle and without an adult clearly in charge, the rules of passing this poor animal around grew uncertain; kids were just passing the rabbit to whoever just sat down, or to whoever reached their arms out, or whoever hollered the loudest.

I watched from the outside. I noticed a pattern. Ainsley kept getting bypassed with the bunny.

She gave up and went to another circle passing around a different furry rabbit. Same thing kept happening.

Have any of you seen Office Space? You know the scene where everyone is passing around pieces of birthday cake and Milton keeps getting passed by until finally all the cake is gone and he's the only person without a piece? And he just stands around, wide-eyed, muttering in discontent while no one hears him? That was so what was happening with Ainsley.

I made this analogy to Jason, and at first we laughed. Five minutes later, when she got red in the face and stomped out of the circle and over to us, we stopped seeing the humor.

"No one will let me hold the bunny!" She said. And instead of pouting, which is what she tends to do now that she's seven, she burst into tears. The tears that a child cries when its feelings have been hurt beyond all hope and repair. Not fake tears to get sympathy or attention, but tears of insecurity.


I'm immune to most of Ainsley's bouts of crying. Probably because, as a mom, I am responsible for most of them. When she doesn't get her way at home, or she gets grounded, or she just in general thinks her mean mom isn't being nice, she cries. And I tune it out. It's par for that course. But this one got me. It wasn't just that she didn't get to hold a bunny; it's that she felt ignored and overlooked. She had asked several of the kids to pass the rabbit to her, told them it was her turn, held out her hands. They looked right through her. When you're a kid, is there really anything worse than not fitting it and being a part of the group?

We hugged her; we got her some of the free ice cream; we told her she needed to be more assertive next time and stick up for herself. The thing with Ainsley is that sometimes she's too nice. It's one of her best qualities, except for times like these where it isn't. While the tears did stop there at the center, I caught her about an hour later with big ol' silent tears rolling down her cheeks when she thought she was all alone watching TV. It stung her pretty deeply.

I, too, had to go have a quiet moment. And a good little cry. Here's one of the things you'll never read in a mommy manual: your child is so much a part of you that you feel what she feels. Ainsley might as well be an extra limb. When she hurts, I hurt. I feel it as strongly as if it has happened to me.

Probably because, in a way, it has. What you do to my kid, you do to me.

It's tough to be a kid. We all remember the good, carefree moments of childhood, especially in the spring when the weather is getting warm and the children in our neighborhoods start getting outside to bike, run, and play hide-and-seek. We don't always remember how mean kids can be and how tough you have to be to survive in a kid's world. Most of us will talk about how hard it was to fit in in middle- and high-school; we seem to forget that sometimes it's hard to fit in even when you're seven.

Ainsley has friends and fits in with her buddies at school. But she's a quiet kid who mostly doesn't draw attention to herself and that can make it hard for her in a crowd of kids she doesn't know. She wants to be liked, and as an only child, looks for a friend--or at the least, a friendly face--in every crowd.

Sometimes, she won't be able to find one. And she will have to deal with that.

We've talked about it. I told her it's up to her, not her mom and dad, to make her voice heard. That she has to stick up for herself and for what she wants while at the same time being fair to other kids.

But I'll be honest: it was everything I could do in the moment to not march over to the bunny pit and say to other people's children, "For the love of God, quit overlooking my kid and pass her a freaking bunny!" I can't do that, though. It's a tough world and Ains has to get tough with it. Mommy won't always be there to knock some heads together for her; she needs to learn to do that herself.

When she hurts, though, when the world tramples on her bunny-lovin' heart, I will give her a hug, buy her some ice cream, and share her tears with her. I can't fight her battles, but I can slap a band-aid on the war wounds.

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