It started out like any other night. The kids had eaten dinner and got pajama’s on. We were about to start the bedtime routine when I heard my son say something to the effect of “…and that’s why he’s fat. Like you.”
After hearing my wife say, “Gee…thaaaanks.” and hearing the pain in her voice, I stood up.
I asked my son, “What did you just say?”
After having been with my sister when her daughter, who at the age of 3, asked a woman if she was pregnant or just fat, and the horrible embarrassment for everyone involved (because the woman wasn’t even close to being pregnant), I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. Nope. Not on my watch! So, I fired up my righteous indignation and got ready to let loose on him when I saw his eyes.
He was already tearing up.
“What did you say, son?”
He refused to tell me.
“What. Did. You. Say.”
He replied with a meek, “I don’t know.”
“No, don’t hand me that. You know what you said. Now, repeat it.”
Then his face contorted and fresh tears streamed down his cheek. “I can’t. It’s too hard.”
“No, it’s not, son. Now repeat what you said.”
Then he stood up and started crying full out. “I don’t wanna get in trouble, Daddy!”
Now, I’ve been a dad for awhile now, and I’m familiar when the alligator tears start. I’m immune to them. Except, these were the real deal. And they cut me to the core. He already knew that what he said was bad. That’s why he didn’t want to repeat it. But, I could tell he didn’t know WHY those words were bad.
So, I did what every rational parent does. I barked at him some more. “Let me tell you something, son, I don’t ever want to hear you talk about someone like that ever again. Do you understand me?” (Holy crap, it was like my mom was taking over my mouth!)
Then he looked down at his feet and his lower lip trembled as he blinked back more tears. “Yes, sir.” (And, suddenly it was as if a younger version of me was taking over his mouth.)
I sat at my desk for a few minutes thinking. Then, I called him over. He shuffled over to me with shoulders sagging and chin touching his chest.
He sat in my lap as I talked about how we can hurt people without meaning to. That sometimes, our words can cut deep…and that we normally hurt the ones we love the most. He fidgeted as I went on. He looked all around me, but never AT me. So, I asked him to look into my eyes.
His cheeks still red from crying earlier, his eyes red-rimmed and puffy, I put a hand on either cheek and kissed his forehead. “Son, I’m not mad at you.”
And I wasn’t! That’s the thing, really. I should have been angry with him. He just called my wife, his mother, fat! I should have whooped his butt and grounded him and yelled at him for being disrespectful and…oh wait, that’s what would have happened to me as a kid.
My anger melted away and I asked him where he heard people talking like that. The answer didn’t surprise me. It hurt, but didn’t surprise me one bit.
“You and mom.”
You see, his mom and I joke around about getting old and fat. It helps to take the sting off of the fact that it’s true. I don’t like having to admit it, but the fact of the matter is this: I am obese. And it hurts. While I can’t speak for my wife directly, I know she feels pretty much the same as I do.
We walk around and use language in a self-deprecating manner, never once thinking that the 4 yr old, no matter how brilliant we see him as, doesn’t get the subtle nuances of words. He sees mom and dad say they are fat…so it must be fair game. And, in that respect, he’s not wrong.
Back to my son. He’s sitting on my lap and trying not to cry again. I hug him close.
“I’m sorry, son. I’m sorry you have heard mom and I talk like that. It’s not right for us to say things like that about other people, we shouldn’t say things like that about ourselves.”
Long story short: We made a deal. The deal is, we won’t talk like that if he doesn’t.
He apologized to mom for hurting her feelings. Then we all hit the ‘delete’ button, and let it go. Stories were read, songs were sung, the boys are in bed and I’m finding I can’t let it go. Well, let me explain.
I’m not mad at him and I’ve forgiven him. That part is water under the bridge. The part I can’t let go is…
I don’t like myself very much. And I didn’t realize I was broadcasting it so loudly.
(to be continued)