Typically, I wouldn’t smile after I told you this story.

If I were being typical, I would finish it up with an exasperated guffaw that means, “Aren’t they insane? Don’t you just dream about being in a silent room alone, eating grapes?”

But because of a particularly brilliant session with my new therapist counselor person and a video I watched months ago and remembering some things about being a human and a mother that I had forgotten and basically every single thing that has happened to me before now, I’m not being my typical self.

I know I’m not being my typical self because when I think about Jo picking up the piece of red sour ribbon candy off the sidewalk, I feel a rush of delight.

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I realize that this is just a red ribbon and not red ribbon candy. For reasons you will soon understand, I don’t have the piece of red ribbon candy anymore.

 

He held it up and asked if he could have it. There was hope in his eyes because sometimes I let him eat things off of the ground or the sidewalk, because maybe it will build his immunity. But this particular thing, this ribbon dipped in sour sugar, it was all alone, just soaking up whatever terrible things might have passed by, and I didn’t want Jo to eat it.

So I told him – with my warm but firm tone that I’m working on – that he could not have the candy. I told him that sometimes grown ups put drugs in candy. I internally cringed when I heard this justification come out of my mouth, but 7-year-olds like really good reasons, and I was grasping to give him one.

He stomped his foot and screamed his tight, high-pitched way that basically means, you’re the worst mom I’ve ever had. It also means, “I might do something really fucked up right now that will publicly embarrass and potentially injure you or something nearby.”

Instead of steeling up and getting harder, the way most humans do when they feel the threat of imminent danger, I said something like, “I know it really sucks that you can’t have it. I’m sorry.”

He screamed again, and gave me his death-y-est death glare, and tightened his fist around the candy. I just looked at him – with that warm but firm look I’m working on. Then I kept on looking.

And then he let out this deeper roar and flung that piece of candy as far away as he could. It soared in a floppy red arc right onto the roof of the apartments next to us. Then Jo hopped back on his scooter, and I walked behind him, imagining how good it felt to throw that candy into oblivion, where no one could ever have it, ever.

The whole red ribbon candy story could have turned out differently. I could have gone all steely disciplinarian, like I tend to, and then Jo would have gotten angrier, and thrown the candy at me, or kicked my leg or something. And then I would have yelled some horrible thing at him because I was so mad about what a horrible kid he was being. Imagine a little Tasmanian devil tornado of horrible sucking both of us right up.

But the tornado did not happen, and we got to keep walking down the sidewalk, towards home, and after that, towards more sidewalks with their abandoned candies, towards more chances to break each other or not.

***

Thank you to Miranda July, whose writing in this book and this book inspired my writing here.