I sat hunched on the carpet in my daughter’s bedroom floor, the berber making little dents in the back of my thigh as I worked.
“No parent would’ve created this toy,” I hissed under my breath. The ‘toy’ in question was a Strawberry Shortcake puzzle book. A puzzle book doesn’t sound all that awful, you say. Why would that anger you? Sounds lovely, in fact, a marriage of book and puzzle, two extremely wholesome toys. The problem is that if a child is actually left alone with the puzzle book all the puzzles seem to get upended out onto the floor, leaving you a very large pile of unmatched pieces.
I soon figured out that all the pieces for one puzzle were one color on the back, causing me to perform the counterintuitive task of flipping the pieces over onto their front so I could match them using their backsides. Emma danced into the room while I was performing this laborious task,
‘I should make her do this,’ I think. Then I think of the process of breathing down her wee little neck while I watch her three year old dexterity attempt to flip pieces about, mismatch them, and sit on my hands allowing her to have a ‘learning experience,’ and decide that I will persevere in assembling these all myself. I look up at her sweet innocent face,
“Emma if you dump all these pieces out again, I will take this away from you,” I say, looking directly into her round unsuspecting blue eyes.
“I won’t,” she shakes her head, eyes growing even rounder. I finish a puzzle and flip the page, as it’s turning upside down all the pieces fall out. A slow dawn of realization spreads across my understanding,
‘I just threatened to punish my kid for something that was probably a complete accident….’ I push down the guilt and decide that maybe I will just make the toy disappear silently in the night rather than commit a witnessed act of toy homicide. No harm done, no one has to know what happened and nobody has to clean this up again.
‘No parent would have made this,’ the thought rode the Ferris wheel in my head again. How could you understand that a simple toy like this would cause a simple mountain of irritation for a parent until you’ve been a parent and had to clean up countless messes like this. When you’ve left the child alone for ‘naptime’ and found the room ripped asunder in ways that you could not have conceived of day after day. Messes that could have only been wrought by the hands of a bored three year old. The nanny’s will write me and give wise suggestions, but I tell you that you don’t know what it’s like to be a parent until you’ve been a parent. There is no way to walk a mile in these shoes until you have them on your feet. There’s no way to explain that until you have a child, and then you realize how smug and judgmental you were.
I have a friend who lost her sister unexpectedly. I have no idea what that feels like, I have never had a sister and I have never lost someone close to me unexpectedly. When it happened I didn’t know what to say to her. So I told her. And then I told her I was sorry and I was sure it hurt terribly, and I guessed that eventually it wouldn’t consume her.
Why can’t we do that more often? Just admit that we don’t know what it feels like to be someone else? Why don’t accept that we can’t know? And that just maybe, just maybe, we won’t do it better than that person. When we see a mom with a screaming toddler just don’t say, ‘I won’t let my kid do that.’ Or, ‘I wouldn’t react that way.’ Or, ‘I know what that feels like.’ Maybe it’s time to say, ‘I don’t know and I’m sorry.’ Or, ‘I have no idea what that person is going through.’
And maybe it’s time to stop producing puzzle books.