It was number twelve on his Christmas list. It was the first thing he told Santa Claus. Shortly after making his annual wish on the remains of this Thanksgiving’s turkey carcass, he entered into negotiations with the Elf on the Shelf. Wishing wells, shooting stars, the occasional stray eyelash. Whatever would help the cause. My son was determined to have his wish: a brother.
When we told Chris that the adoption agency had matched us with a child — someone who, if all things fell into place, might very possibly be his new brother in a few weeks or months — he stopped eating his dinner, calmly stood up and then executed a rather impressive triple somersault expertly sticking the landing before effortlessly melting into a perfectly-posed standing bow. Not really. But he did smile a huge smile the length of his face, announcing that he had never been happier while simultaneously shrieking with delight.
So you can imagine our surprise when, several moments later, he burst into tears. On a normal day Chris is a very messy crier, but these were sloppier more hysterical tears. They were Oscar-winning tears. Todd and I just looked at each other. We expressed our concern, but Chris assured us he was okay, telling us he “just needed to be alone for a few minutes”. At first I thought he was simply trying to get out of finishing his dinner, but then I remembered that Chris has a lot feelings.
He went up to his room. To be alone. Because he has a lot of feelings. Like any good stage mother not wanting to miss out on a moment of the drama, I counted to almost sixty before rushing upstairs to get the scoop. Like a good parent I respected his need for privacy and allowed him a few minutes to compose himself before going up to check on him. I found him perched on the ladder of his loft bed — sobbing uncontrollably.
Me: What’s wrong?
Chris: (hysterically, through tears) I’m just so happy.
Me: But you’re crying.
Chris: I know.
Me: Are you okay?
Chris: (more hysterics and more tears, but smiling) This is the happiest day of my life.
We have of course explained to him that this new brother is not a done deal. There is a second family being considered. There are unknown factors and forces beyond our control at work. It’s out of our hands, kid. He says that he understands and he pretends to listen, but if we are not chosen, if he doesn’t get his brother, he will be devastated. As devastated as Todd and I. But we’re adults. He’s just a kid. With a lot of feelings.
I am not a nice person. I once made someone cry and I enjoyed it. I am currently holding grudges that date back to the Reagan administration. When people ask me for spare change/a cup of coffee/a bus ticket to Kansas City/$2500 to pay their back rent, I just roll my eyes. It’s not that I don’t have compassion, I do. I just don’t give it away like some twink* with daddy issues at a bear bar**.
And I have tried to change. I have tried to be a different person. But the truth, for all of us I believe, is you will never not be the person you are. Like a recovering addict in a twelve-step program, the best I can hope is to resist temptation…because while for some, revenge may be a dish best served cold, for me, revenge is a dish best served always. And now that I’m a parent, I need to Dexter that way of thinking — by which I mean I need to control it, not stab it to death in a plastic-lined kill-room before dismembering it and throwing it in the ocean off the coast of Miami.
I need to lead by example. I need to toss my spare change into the cup. I need to forgive. I need to not make people cry, and if I do, I need to at least not enjoy it. Last night before bed Chris told us about a boy in his class who cries all the time. “An annoying cry-baby,” Chris called him. My first urge was to agree, to make a joke at the expense of the boy, but then I remembered back to a year ago. I remembered Chris, tears welling up in his eyes, desperate not to leave us, desperate not to go to school. I remembered picking him up at the end of the day and hearing from his teacher how he had cried all morning. An annoying cry-baby. My annoying cry-baby.
So instead of agreeing, instead of making a joke, I gently reminded Chris that he was once that boy and that maybe before he threw shade (as the kids say), he should consider that the boy was crying for a reason. Maybe he missed his parents. Maybe he just needed a friend. Maybe Chris could try being that friend.
Because at the end of the day the world has enough people like me in it: cynics who laugh at those chumps who tearfully post videos of three-legged dogs on Facebook before dumping ice on their heads and then declaring in a recycled meme how “they will not be defined by their past”. I might be a not nice person, but that doesn’t mean my kid has to be too.
* twink (n) – a young gay man, age 18-24, with little to no body hair
** bear bar (n) – a bar frequented by hirsute middle-aged gay men; Daddy types