Before I start this sad, sad tale, I must tell you that I am a modern teacher lady. I am an up-to-date grandmother.
I know the buzzwords.
When I was a little child, our parents were very busy. They had a lot of us. They loved us deeply, but they didn’t make it their personal goal every second of every day to make sure that we were ecstatically happy.
If you grew up as a “Baby Boomer,” you know what I mean.
We lived our childhood lives, our parents lived theirs.
Then our generation became parents, and everything changed. Women went back to work. That meant a few things. It meant that Dads learned to vacuum.
It also meant that both Moms and Dads were buried under a gigantic avalanche of guilt. Your baby is upset because he didn’t like his broccoli? Oh, my god! That’s because I WORK! My mom didn’t work…I think we liked our broccoli…”
The truth of course is that you hated your broccoli, but your Mom just took it away and waited until the next meal, when she served you peas.
Our generation somehow got it into our heads that our children should NEVER experience the slightest difficult emotion.
As a teacher, I saw this a lot. Anxious parents, bless their well meaning hearts, asking for my help because, God forbid, the math was hard. I empathized with them. Kids cry over homework and it breaks a parent’s heart. I get it.
But I also understood, as a teacher, that if the math wasn’t hard, the child wasn’t growing.
I learned, as a mom and then as a teacher, that it is good for kids to experience all of life’s richness. Including the hard stuff, the sad stuff and the scary stuff. Otherwise how will they ever emerge as adults who are strong enough to cope with reality?
So. I know what the education gurus mean when they tell us that we need to teach children to be resilient. Or to have (cough, cough) “grit.” They need to just suck it up and deal with it when life is hard.
I was all about that idea.
Until this morning.
My beautiful, loving, funny, 20 month old granddaughter, Ellie, was helping me make a batch of meatballs. She was standing on a kitchen chair, with Nonni behind her. She helped me crack the egg, put in the bread crumbs, add the spices. She was in the process of peeling two cloves of garlic and an onion.
Suddenly both of us heard the sound of our puppy, Lennie, chomping on something deliciously plastic. Crack! Crack! Crunch!
I rushed into the living room, where I found the perp happily destroying the bulging plastic eyeball of Ellie’s absolutely favorite stuffy, Elmo. I grabbed the toy from the pup, swearing under my breath. I stepped out of the room, out of Ellie’s eyes, and looked at the damage.
Holy crow. Elmo was missing his right eye completely, with only sharp pointy pieces left. His left eye was broken, but still in place. I was immediately swept with fear.
My first thought was, “Hide him! Replace him!” I thought of a quick run to Amazon…a new, perfect Elmo could be here in 24 hours!
Then I thought about “grit” and resilience.
I slowly walked the wrecked little red guy into the kitchen, where my beautiful girl stood in her orange apron, garlic bulb in hand. I held poor Elmo out to her. I said, “Uh, Lennie chewed on Elmo…”
In a reaction that far outpaced her tender age, Ellie burst into tears and reached for her beloved friend. “Oh!” She sobbed, repeatedly kissing Elmo’s head. “Poor, Emmo, poor Emmo!” She rocked him, she cried, she kept looking at me. “Nonni! Emmo!” I had no idea what to say to her.
“I know, honey. I’m sorry. Lennie broke Elmo’s eyes…”
“Poor Emmo! Emmo!! No, no, no!” She sobbed. She sat down on the chair, clutching broken, eyeless Elmo to her chest. She rocked and cried and kissed his chewed up face.
As an experienced, professional teacher/mom/Nonni I knew how to respond.
I grabbed both Emmo and Ellie to my chest and sobbed along with her.
“New Elmo!” my brain ordered.
But then I grabbed a tissue and gulped down my sadness. Lennie was curled up on a rug, looking guilty.
I thought about Emmo and his shattered plastic eyeballs.
I went to our medicine cabinet and pulled out a roll of self-sticking injury wrap. I grabbed a roll of bright red bandage, and wrapped up Elmo’s face. I presented the bandaged toy to Ellie.
“Emmo?” she asked. “This?” She touched the bandage and looked up at me with her huge, tear filled, dark eyes.
“Yes!” I said in my cheery voice. “It’s a bandage! It’s over Elmo’s eye. So he’s…um…he’ll be better! Ah…Elmo is OK!”
Carefully, with a grace I would never expect from such a little girl, Ellie gathered Elmo into her arms. “Emmo,” she murmured into his fur. “Emmo. Poor Emmo.” She kissed his cheek.
She was not fooled.
Ellie spent the rest of the day gently rocking and kissing poor Emmo. She napped with him, carefully tucked under the covers. He came with us to the grocery store, the hair salon and the vet, where lots of adults commented on his wrapped up head.
Ellie just stared at all of them. She didn’t say a word.
But she gently, gently kissed that funny bandaged head. She whispered, “Emmo” into his neck.
I guess Ellie learned something today. Life can be hard. Forgiveness is necessary. Dogs sometimes eat plastic eyeballs.
And I learned something, too. An idea on paper or in theory is very different from an idea in real life. I am fighting the urge to order that new Elmo at this very moment. And blind Elmo is sitting here looking at me.