The End of the World

Memoir MondaysRecently, Jay Dee Archer wrote a post on his blog about how everything can be the end of the world to a toddler. Wrong color Goldfish crackers? End of the world. YouTube show keeps buffering? End of the world. Shoes on the wrong feet (self-inflicted)? End of the goddamn world.

But there was one time that it was the end of the world and I actually understood the reaction.

Not long before Christmas last year my daughter got it into her head that she really wanted a Rocket Raccoon from Santa. She’d seen Guardians of the Galaxy and had taken a great liking to the furry little fellow, so after she asked 5 or 6 different mall Santa’s to bring her a Rocket Raccoon, my husband ordered this adorable little stuffed version of the character online. After some stress-inducing delays on the mail, it came just in time for Christmas, and the happiness on the little missy’s face when she saw him was immeasurable.

Come on, look at that love. Tell me your heart wouldn't break.
Come on, look at that love. Tell me your heart wouldn’t break.

Rocket quickly became her favorite toy; she slept with him every night, had him beside her all day long regardless of what else she was playing with, and she insisted on dragging him along with her everywhere from malls to restaurants.

One day, a couple of months after Christmas, I was in the bathroom trying to straighten unruly hair, while my daughter was playing in her room. I heard a small bang, but I paid it no mind because what kind of kid doesn’t make any noise when they’re playing? Then I heard the crying. I met her in the hallway on my way to her room. She was practically sobbing and was clutching Rocket to her chest. At first I couldn’t figure out what had happened – and she was in no fit state to tell me – but then I looked in her room and saw the mess. The cup of milk she’d been drinking was knocked over, the milk all over her table and the floor and several toys. A light bulb went off in my head as I turned back to look at my distraught daughter, clutching her little stuffed Rocket Raccoon. He was soaked with milk, clean through, like she’d actually dunked him right in the carton.

I couldn’t stop her crying, and I couldn’t blame her. In the past when she’d made big messes, I’d threatened her with losing her possessions – for instance, when she refused to go to the bathroom and ended up wetting herself, I’d tell her that we had to throw her princess panties in the garbage. The threats were my way of teaching her that she had to be more careful, but this time they’d backfired. The way she was clutching Rocket and bawling her eyes out, she definitely thought that I was going to take him and throw him in the trash. END OF THE WORLD.

Even after I explained that I was going to do my best to fix Rocket, I don’t think she stopped crying the entire time I was soaking him in the sink and scrubbing him with Purex. It was definitely, no questions asked, the absolute end of all creation. It was all over. Her special gift from Santa, her favorite toy, her little buddy…ruined. Life would never be the same. She couldn’t possibly go on.

Luckily he wasn’t really ruined. With quick action I somehow managed to extricate all the milk, and after a thorough powdering with baking soda and one good wash cycle with the laundry he was even smelling good as knew. The end of the world was postponed as I handed my daughter her fresh-as-a-daisy toy and she broke out in that adorable little grin again.

But it was pretty touch and go there for a little while.

It May Not Be the End of the World…But it Can Feel Like It

When I was very young, I had a toy called “Puppy Surprise”. For those who are too young to remember (or too old to care), this was a stuffed “mama” dog with little beanbag puppies in her tummy. The surprise part was in how many puppies you got, since it could be anywhere between two and five. I was one of the lucky kids who ended up with five puppies, and I was ecstatic. I loved those puppies, gave them all names, and played with them constantly.

Then one day one of the puppies went missing. I searched high and low but I couldn’t find it. I was certain it had gotten left at my neighbor’s house, but they were unable to find it either. For all I knew, that puppy was gone forever.

That night, I recall, my mother was working a backshift and I’d asked my father if I could sleep in their bed with him. And at some point during the night, as I was laying in bed unable to sleep, I thought about that lost puppy. I started crying. I tried to hold it in, but my shoulders shook and a little gasp or two escaped. Before I knew it I’d accidentally woken my father, who asked me what was wrong. I told him, and though I don’t remember exactly what it was he said, I do recall that it more or less amounted to what any parent in the same situation would say: “It’s just a toy; it’s not the end of the world.”

It’s not the end of the world. These are words that have probably been spoken by every parent on the planet at one time or another. They are words that can be very true…but also very, very wrong.

See, the problem with becoming an adult is that we tend to completely forget what it feels like to be a child. My father’s response was a completely reasonable one from the viewpoint of an adult, but not from the viewpoint of a child. At the time of this story I was about six or seven years old, and at that age losing one of your favorite toys is the end of the world.

We change dramatically as we grow, and bit by bit we begin to learn about what is and isn’t really important in life. Children haven’t gained that knowledge yet. A toddler doesn’t understand why they can’t have cookies for breakfast because they have no understanding of the concept of “health”. All they know is that you are refusing to give them something they want very badly. A child who is being teased at school can not grasp the idea that someday the opinions of their peers will mean little to nothing. They only know that the teasing hurts their feelings and maybe even makes them depressed. Even as teenagers we still haven’t grown enough emotionally to avoid these traps. Have you ever been around a teenager who just got dumped? It’s pitiful. Beyond pitiful. But you can’t explain to them that it’s “not the end of the world” because to them it is. Yes, as adults we know that the pain of a dumped teenager is nothing in the grand scheme of things, but to that teenager it is the worst pain they have ever felt.

So try to remember that the next time you’re dealing with a toddler who won’t stop crying, a child who is scared and upset, or a teen who believes their whole world has just come to an abrupt end. Remember that they don’t understand that it’s not the end of the world because that’s exactly what it feels like to them. All pain, physical or emotional, is relative, and the younger the child the less they have to compare to.

Most of all, remember what it feels like to be a kid. I promise you’ll be a better parent – and person – for it.