Oh my God, I’ve just come into some MONEY! So excited, I went to the bank to cash a check that was written for a substantial amount. Man, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that cash. I had so many plans for it! Usually, I keep myself on a tight budget, but this was a sudden windfall and I could not be more elated! I made sure my check was signed, that I had two forms of ID and I waited patiently in line. When I arrived at the window, I presented the check to the teller. She smiled kindly and processed my transaction. But, when it came time for her to hand me my money, she dropped the wad of cash into a box and held the box high over her head. “Ma’am, if you want this money, you’ll have to fish it out of this box, but I have to warn you… the box is teeming with live spiders. Don’t look so frightened… you want the money, don’t you? What’s to be afraid of? It’s JUST spiders! Who’s afraid of a few little tarantulas? Oh, you’re terrified of spiders? Shame. No cash for you.”
Seems unreasonable, doesn’t it? Well, something relatively similar happened to my daughter recently.
This past Monday was Halloween. My daughter was so excited she could hardly contain herself. She could put on a sparkly princess costume and there would be candy… LOTS of candy? TONS AND TONS OF CANDY!? And she could eat it, with reckless abandon? BEST DAY EVER. So, we dressed her up in her sparkly Cinderella dress, complete with glittery silver shoes and long satin gloves and set out to Trick-or-Treat in our neighborhood. Now, let me say, Trick-or-Treating is a real event in our neighborhood. Most houses have festive lights and very involved graveyard scenes or big blow-up pumpkins and witches and goblins on their front lawns. There are adults, hanging out in their driveways with neighbors, fire pits ablaze excitedly awaiting the waves of trick or treaters, there is candy galore… there are even neighbors who bake Pinterest-worthy Halloween treats for the kids and the whole thing feels very… magical.
House to house we went, my little Cinderella smiling brightly. At most houses, she was one of many trick-or-treaters approaching at the same time. The other kids would yell, “Trick or Treat!” and the adults would ooh and aah and distribute the candy. My daughter blended into the crowd of tiny pirates and Elsas and Pikachus. So, at most houses, no one noticed that all my daughter did was hold out her bucket without saying anything.
That’s until we hit the house on the corner. The lights had just come on and my daughter excitedly said, “Mommy, look! Let’s go dat house!” When we approached, I smiled and said “trick or treat” for her. The woman stopped, looked at me and back at my daughter and said, “what are the magic words, Cinderella?” and she held the bowl of candy up high out of my daughter’s reach. I chimed in. “Trick or Treat!” She held the bowl higher. “No magic words, no candy!” My daughter stared at her, frozen. “Come on now, what are the magic words? What are you– shy? Say Trick or Treat! Come on now!”
I I I am sure she meant no harm, but I wanted to punch this lady square in the nose. I also wanted to explain that my daughter, who is not yet 4 years old is a small child, not a trick pony. I wanted to tell her that she is not shy. In fact, she is quite outgoing and bubbly and that her big toothy smile and her laugh are so contagious, you just can’t help but be happy when you’re near her. I also wanted to tell her that entire months passed where my daughter didn’t utter a word to her preschool teachers and that we celebrate like it’s New Years Eve when we find out she uttered a tiny “hello” to her teacher. I wanted her to know that my little girl sometimes gets so anxious in new situations that she will curl up her fingers so her hands look like paws and bark little barks instead of talking, almost as if she wants to be anyone but herself at that moment.
I wanted to say, “Fuck you, it’s Halloween. She’s 3 years old. Hand out the candy and not the etiquette lessons, lady.” But, I didn’t. Another group of trick or treaters walked up and I took my daughter by the hand and we headed to the next house. I suppose I could have relented and said, “oh yes, she’s shy!”, which I’m sure would have been an acceptable enough response for some candy. But I decided that my child doesn’t need to hear me making uncomfortable excuses. And I sure didn’t want her to think that her very real discomfort and anxiety constituted some sort of failure on her part. There’s plenty of opportunity for us to address these issues… Halloween isn’t one of them.
I mostly forgot about it until I got home and scrolled through Facebook. In our neighborhood Facebook group, someone commented about kids not saying “thank you” or “trick-or-treat”, or the horror… taking TWO pieces of candy. On a local social group, someone commented that children just holding out their buckets for free candy is everything that’s wrong with the world today. In a mom’s group, someone shared screenshots of her great-aunt complaining about how rude children are these days. Who knows? Maybe the lady on the corner turned around and told someone the tale of the rude little Cinderella who couldn’t even muster up a simple “trick-or-treat”. All I know, is people were bitching about parents not teaching their kids manners, as if that’s the only plausible explanation.
Maybe that kid that didn’t say thank you isn’t a just rude little product of today’s “entitled” generation, what with their participation awards and safe spaces and triggers. Maybe that child is on the spectrum, maybe that child struggles with selective mutism or hasn’t yet gotten a hang of the very rigid rules of Halloween candy acquisition. Or maybe the kid, at that moment, simply forgot his or her manners. You have no idea what the cause is, so how about just treating the child like any other human being and accepting that no one is 100% on point 100% of the time?
My daughter asked me as we walked away, “Why that lady not give me candy?”. So, I tried to explain that some people simply NEED to hear, “Trick or Treat”. “But… why mommy?” “Well, sweetheart, I suppose it’s just how you have to ask for candy on Halloween.” “Ok, mommy… but I shy. I don’t like to talk. Why I’m shy?” Just then, my husband, who’d stopped to talk about the latest Seahawks game with another neighbor caught up with us and I was off the hook.
It felt, however, like the question was left, hanging in the air, unanswered. And my heart broke a little. You see, up until recently, she’s been our baby… we could easily shield her from things. I could answer her questions with simple generalities. But as time passes, and the amount of why’s and how-come’s increase, I’m going to have to start explaining how the world works. I know that’s my job, but it doesn’t make it any easier for me to have to unveil the truth: the world isn’t always a wondrous place. Sometimes, it downright sucks. For her, the world thus far has been full of magic and new experiences, but the older she gets and the more routine her experiences become, she’s going to come to the realization that the magic and the wonder and the happy stuff is only a tiny part of the equation. By the time you’re a full-fledged adult, you’ll be at times jaded and cynical, at times bored or dissatisfied or angry or sad. Eventually, those moments that feel like magic become so fleeting, that when they happen, you try so very hard to commit them to memory and savor them. For me, these days, all of those magical moments I experience, I experience vicariously through my daughter. Seeing her eyes light up at a new sight or taste or sound reminds me that life is actually, at times, so profoundly beautiful.
And, while my husband and I think she is utterly perfect just the way she is, there will be other people—people who don’t accept her for who she is and want her to change. We understand her anxieties. We know her and know what’s beneath that “shyness”. But, there are others who will judge her for it. There will come a time where she’s no longer comfortable breaking into an impromptu a capella performance of “Let it Go” in the middle of Whole Foods just because she feels like it. People will stare. There will come a time when she knows people will look at her funny if she decides she wants to wear a princess dress and sneakers to school. There will come a day where lightening bugs and thunderstorms and running through a sprinkler and Christmas lights and a new stuffed doggy aren’t met with a big wide-eyed WOW, but a half hearted “whatever”. And, there will be a time when someone is mean to her or criticizes something about her that she can’t change, and I won’t be there for her to hide behind. All I want is to protect her. I want to shield her from mean and insensitive people. But, I can’t. And that angers me. When someone breaks her spirit, it’s like they’re breaking mine as well.
That moment on Halloween gave me a glimpse into the future when I won’t be able to kiss away the boo boos.
So… for all those times that you, World, make me have to face this inevitable reality sooner than I would like to: Fuck you.
Fuck you, insensitive jerks who expect so much more out of small people who are just learning to navigate the world than you would out of the average adult. Fuck you, a-holes who make children struggling with x, y, or z feel “less than”. Fuck you, complete strangers who judge the quality of someone’s parenting based on one teeny tiny interaction with their child. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.
Ok, so I know it’s utterly irrational for me to be mad about the inevitable. But what can I say, sometimes a good ol’ FUCK YOU is cathartic. I posed this question in our private group, and within minutes, we had a whole slew of eager Fuck Yous.
So, go ahead… share your Fuck Yous with us…. it will make you feel a little better, I promise.