We were sitting on the couch, my little one and I, with his mom on the love-seat across from us, watching a movie. We had a bowl of popcorn between us, and as my little one reclined into one of the pillows, he took handfuls of the popcorn and not so delicately or accurately plied the fluffy stuff into his mouth. When the majority of the bowl was gone, he started playing with the pieces of popcorn, alternately flicking them into his mouth or smashing them in his palm and then licking-up the pieces like a dog. We paused the movie occasionally to ask or answer a question, to run to the bathroom, get a refill of one of our drinks or the other…and then continued watching and eating and enjoying the movie and each other’s company. The further into the bowl we got, the more broken pieces of popcorn there were on the little one’s blanket, pillow, pajamas, and surrounding couch area.
I reached over to pick-up some of the crumbs and broken pieces to put them back in the bowl…and made a mistake….
“Do you think you’re making a big enough mess, you little slob?”
Did you just…call me a slob?
My little one asked this with a quivering chin and downcast eyes as he picked a piece of popcorn off of the blanket beneath his chin and placed it anxiously into his mouth.
“Well yeah, look at the mess…hey….”
There were big alligator tears and an immediately running nose and the sobbing of words and half words that I couldn’t understand between his crying and the movie and his mom and my questioning and….
“Hey there…I was just playing….”
Why…did you…call…me that? What was…why are you….
And more tears…and my heart was breaking at his breaking heart and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and oh….
“Hey, Buddy, look at me,” as I patted his foot, “I was only playing…you’re making such a mess here…hey…look…I was only playing.” I reached over and dragged him to me…. “Hey…I call your mom a slob too, sometimes…when she makes a mess…I wasn’t trying to be mean….”
And his chest was shaking and he was wiping tears across his face and his mom brought over a Kleenex to blow his nose…and I was holding back a smile in my amazement and tears in my sadness at how I had just crushed his little heart…his daddy calling him a slob.
“Hey there…why are you crying? I was only playing….”
I…don’t like…being…called names.
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, Buddy. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings or upset you…I was just playing with you.”
I accept your…apology. Sniff….
An important aspect of my little one’s life and existence, at this point in his eight years, and possibly for many more years as he learns to decipher and remember the various meanings of our vast array of socially constructed and freighted expressions and intentions and nuanced meanings, is his acceptance of things as they are presented to him. He doesn’t see the gray or shading in many of our words and intentions. The idiosyncrasies of our speech and the subtle and not-so-subtle meanings of our paired words sometimes escape him, even when we’re joking around…they mean, to him, what they literally mean. In my playing, I forgot about the concreteness of his brilliant little mind…and the tenderness of his easily broken heart.
Oh…how it hurts sometimes….