Wielding a roll of sticky tape, I mended a picture book for my son tonight.
Not a momentous event, not at all, in the eyes of an adult. But through the eyes of a toddler, a different thing entirely.
This book, sitting in pieces in front of me on the floor, was called Chick. It was my son’s favorite, and almost un-fixable, despite my best efforts. A pop up book, sadly ripped and torn, it had been languishing on a high shelf for weeks now. Every few nights, my son would ask “Chick?” Only to have me reply “It’s broken”. An attempt to teach him the gravity of his actions, this indulged child who does not cry when something breaks but chimes that we can “Buy a new one at the shop”.
The first time Chick was ripped, I repaired him, giving my two and a half year old the benefit of the doubt- it was obvious from his distress, that this had been an act of curiosity, not malice. And for the manufacturers to hide a small, paper chicken within the pop up egg, one that could only be properly seen if the book was destroyed, well, was that not tempting the chubby hands of a child to explore, to leave torn shreds of colored cardboard in their wake?
The second time Chick was ripped, the cardboard confetti was accompanied by a cheeky smile and the tiny thunder of size 6 feet running as he heard me coming.
And so, Chick sat, requested but unread.
Chick happened to be repaired tonight in the haphazard way of the outskirts of my discipline- I had never meant to carry this punishment on for so long. I had simply forgotten to take Chick downstairs. It just so happened that today, I spotted him as I was leaving my son’s room. And the sticky tape was already out, waiting patiently on the kitchen bench to be utilized or returned to it’s home, littered with the debris of old craft projects and random balls of Blu-Tac.
My son sat and watched, grave, serous, as I taped the pieces of his prized possession back together.
In the constricted world of a toddler, parents are god-like. We are the rule-makers, the harbingers of both rewards and punishment. My son thinks my husband a hero because he can fix the CD players where the “Wiggles stuck!!”. He considers me a champion because I can, with sticky tape and sheer determination, craft a three dimensional egg from the tattered strips of his misbehavior.
My son carried the newly repaired Chick up to bed tonight, the book tucked under his chubby arm, dwarfing his torso, banging his knees and making stair climbing difficult. We sat on the bed, as we do every night, my feet resting on the floor while his dangled and swung a rhythm off the edge. He opened his book, eager to read the story he had been missing and asking for.
As he turned the first page, I saw the shock of Chick’s imperfection startle him, the long dark eyelashes that frame his blue eyes swept upward. He paused, looking at the imperfect egg, unsure of the parameters here. I had done my best, but parts of this puzzle were missing, and even a mother can only repair what is there.
“It was broken, remember? Mummy fixed it the best she could.”
He nodded, confused. The second page, the bright yellow bird peeking up and down and the page moved back and forth, cheered him and he eased into the story with his sleepy enthusiasm. On Chick’s second run, he again paused, moved his fingers briefly over the roughness of the edges of the tape, then turned the page without pausing over the first page of the story.
A toddlers epiphany, a lesson learnt, is an astounding and pensive thing to watch.
Tonight, my son learnt that what is broken cannot always be fixed, even by his mother and her sticky tape. He learnt that mummy is not magic, and she cannot always rebuild things exactly the way they were before.
He learnt the consequences of his actions. I doubt the book will be torn again.
In the tiny part that likes to practice melodramatic parenting, I feel cruel, as if I have started a domino effect of disappointment in his life that will not cease. All of us have to learn to live with disappointment, with things that change and shift, with the ramifications of what we have done, do we not? Yet this feels like such a harsh lesson for a young child to learn.
Please don’t misinterpret me here. I’m not berating myself over something a simple as a ripped pop up book, a materiel object that has no real permanence. But a part of me is mourning the first sliver that has been shaved from my child’s image of his mother as his God- invincible, in control, a fixer of broken things. A wielder of magic sticky tape.
All of us learn, eventually, that magic is scarce, and that sometimes things fall apart so badly no one can repair them. It’s a part of growing up. This is the first barren life lesson I have born witness to my child taking in. And there will only be more to witness from here.