There were a lot of firsts at my house today. We broke 90 degrees in my part of the world for the first time this year, and though it was breezy, the heat was sweltering. My son is an outdoor kid, and despite the heat, today was no different. So, to the backyard we went. After about 2.5 seconds back there, I could no longer stand it and made an executive decision to overturn the last dregs of the sandbox and fill it with water instead. “I’ll buy more sand next week,” I thought. Et voila, first mini paddling pool of the year. My joy in that moment was almost immediately squashed when my gleeful toddler mischievously plunked a tiny pill bug into the basin I’d created without even a second thought. It plopped, opened, and sank to the bottom, where it drowned, then floated back to the top. And with that, we had baby’s first bug murder.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the mental health and emotional well-being of my son. Before you praise me, please note my perfectly selfish reasoning for this worry: everything bad that happens in a person’s life is always the parents’ fault, and I don’t want to (1) raise a kid who grows up to hate/leave me, or (2) raise a monster. (I exaggerate, but Charles Manson wouldn’t have become Charles Manson had he not been born to a 16 year old alcoholic mother turned ex-convict who married random dudes and stashed her child with relatives and at boarding school, neglecting his emotional needs at every turn.) Yes, of course, once we reach adulthood our lives become our own responsibilities, but personality disorders are born of childhood hardships, guys. True privilege in life comes from having an emotionally supportive and kind upbringing, and all ills begin with emotional deprivation. So you can imagine my shame, horror, and embarrassment when I saw just what was tumbling in slow motion from chubby toddler hand to the crisp, watery grave below. I’m raising a murderer.
It’s my fault not his, because he asked first. I’ll set the scene.
There I sat watching my 3 year-old happily scrape tiny mounds of sandbox sand from the pavement into his hand to fill his toy dump truck. He’d roll the truck 3 feet away then dump the sand out only to begin again. It was simple play but entertaining enough. I, however, was bored. And hot. And restless.
Soon enough, kiddo grew tired of having to scrape sand off the ground so headed to the sand box, which, I had noted the day before, was grody.
“Ah, ah, ah babe, hold on please. The sand box is dirty, dirty,” I said, the repetition of my words communicating just how filthy the box must have been. My boy paused long enough for me to get up and go to him, which was long enough for genius to spark.
“I know!” I said, “Let me get the hose and we’ll fill this with water to splash instead. Does that sound fun?”
No answer, but it didn’t matter: uhhh yeah that sounded fun.
I promptly dumped the box and sprayed it out, dragged it within leg-distance of where I planned to sit, and filled it with water from the tap. Ahhhh, delightful.
Kiddo jumped in and began to stomp. Water splashed everywhere, and it was grand. He giggled, I giggled. We were having a great time.
“Momma, come stomp,” he said. I hoisted myself out of my chair to oblige, but he jumped out of the pool and ran to his dump truck with a better idea, so I turned to sit back down.
“Momma, I’mma throw dis in dere,” came a tiny voice from behind. I lowered myself into my chair and, once placed, focused on my kid’s tiny, clenched fist. I wondered for a second what was in there, then remembered the sand he had been mounding not 10 minutes before.
“Uhh, I don’t…” I started to say, before reconsidering. Who cares if he throws sand in the tub, I thought. “Sure babe. Go for it.”
The joy on my boy’s face when given the go ahead was infectious. He was so delighted that I was elated for him. I’ve never seen such glee on my son’s face before; his chubby cheeks dimpled so hard I thought they’d crease permanently. I laughed, my eyes crinkling with pride. And then he opened his hand.
I was confused for a split second when no sand fell, but as he turned his wrist to pour out the contents of his palm, my stomach jumped into my throat.
NOOOOOOOOOOO, thought my brain.
“Wai–” said my mouth.
Thunk, went the bug.
And that was that.
Here I’ll note that my child is three and hasn’t the cognitive awareness to understand that the little roly-poly he found might not be suited for water play. There was no malicious intent, and all concern for emotional and mental well being is my own, and in fact, exaggerated for comedic effect. But still, I can’t help but think of damn Darla from Finding Nemo, with her stupid headgear and wicked grin.
But, I swallowed my feelings about the incident and gave my cutie a hug. “Was that silly, babe?” I asked kindly.
“Yeah,” he replied.
“I bet it was” I enthused, “You know what, boo? Bugs actually don’t really like water. They hide when it rains so they don’t get too wet,” I informed him, adding that maybe he can play with his bug friends in the grass, which would be fun for everyone. He nodded, seeming to understand. I gave him one more squeeze, then let him go, hoping that my words actually sunk in. He ran back to his dump truck, grabbing a fistful of actual sand this time, and I fished the half-open insect out of the pool. He ran back and paused, looking at me expectantly.
“Go ahead,” I chuckled, then watched once again with pride as my joyful boy dumped a handful of sand into the water, then splashed in after it. Not a bug murderer, I thought, just a teachable moment. Satisfied, I stood to stomp along with my boy.