Mark Twain & Toys
Mark Twain once wrote: “Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.” Breathe was two years old when I took away the pacy. With her usual, yet rare, grace, she gave it up very easily after I explained to her that she could only have it for one more night. We had a night where she stayed up about an hour later than she usually did, upset because I wouldn’t give it to her, and that was it. She had not, however, forgotten about it. A week or so had passed pacy-free when she received a new stuffed animal dog. As usual, I asked what she wanted to name it. She replied, “Green Light Pacy.” To this day, that is the dog’s name. Alight has a so called “water baby,” a doll that can be filled with water to have the same feel as a real baby. Alight loves this doll, whom she has named Baby. When she cannot find her to sleep with, Alight will look at me with tears overflowing, her bottom lip quivering, and say pathetically, “but I’m not grown. I NEED my baby!”, a sight which inevitably makes me bound and determined to find the doll, if I have to tear the house down to do it. When Breathe had her surgery on her skull, there was a toy that had two sides to it, and looked like a house. On one side, you could open a mailbox and ring the doorbell. Whenever you rang the doorbell, it played a song called “welcome home.” Over the arch, I had typed up a banner that read, “Breathe’s House.” When I brought Breathe home from the hospital, her head bandaged, her body still swollen and she rang the doorbell and that toy played that “welcome home” song, I stood in the middle of the playroom and burst into tears. It is still one of my favorite toddler toys. Alight has about a gazillion “little toys”, which she keeps in purses and bags. If ever this house catches afire, I will have to ensure that those little toys are safe. Breathe had a cotton elephant whose trunk she used to stick in her mouth named Ella. We laughingly joked that she was using the elephant’s trunk as a pacy.
I could spend pages upon pages upon pages detailing all their favorite toys and the memories associated with each one. This evening, the girls played Let’s Make a Mess, an actual game, though not one of my particular favorites, in which the goal is to see how quickly they turn a clean, nice room into an absolute chaos. They do it because they love to see my (faked) horrified reaction and because they know that I will inevitably help them destroy what remains of the clean room (if you can’t beat them, join them!) When I walked in and saw the mess, I sighed inwardly. Cleaning is never fun but this past year it has taken on a new meaning of the word, since physically it’s harder to accomplish pain-free. I never encourage this game. Fortunately, I have successfully mastered the art of thinking before I speak and I took a moment to look at their faces. Breathe’s eyes twinkle when she is happy. I mean, actually sparkle. And Alight has the world’s most infectious laugh. There wasn’t a trace of shame or guilt or fear or anything negative on those two innocent faces. It was a golden opportunity for me to either embrace the moment and remember that I was going to have to clean anyway and they won’t be this young tomorrow. So, instead of reprimanding them or limiting their fun, I threw myself in, like I usually do, and played. I told them that they’d done a good job of making bridges across the “lava” (the floor) with the pillows and the covers which had been stripped of the bed. Within moments, I couldn’t have cared less if Martha Stewart walked into the room and called me a heathen for allowing it to look the way it did. Now, several hours removed from the incident, I am grateful that I am pretty good at following my own rule about never reprimanding the girls just because I don’t feel good.
It made me think. It made me think about being a little girl again, and a teenager, too. It made me think about hope. There is a picture of me on my sixteenth birthday. I am standing beside a horse I adored, I’m barefoot, and there is pure joy on my face. It made me remember. There was all sorts of things happening during that time, bad things that still make me tread carefully into the nighttime hours. But there was something other than fear that I had back then, in abundance, something good and strong and powerful. Hope. Faith. When I was in the ninth grade, I went to a horrible private, hypocritical school at which I was the target of a very mean bully who pulled embarrassing and downright cruel jokes on me. My mother desperately wanted me to change classes, since the only period I shared with this girl was an elective Journalism class. I refused. No way was I going to give up a journalism class, a class I had every right to be in, because I was embarrassed (coincidentally, after that year, I don’t get embarrassed easily: having the teacher told that *you* were the one who put catsup on a sanitary pad and then stuck it to the classroom television when you would not even know how to THINK of such a thing will pretty much permanently cure you of embarrassment). A year after I left the school for a far superior public school, I happened to run into the bully somewhere else. When she called my name, I remember feeling anxious and nervous—-but hopeful, too. Back in the eighth grade, my bus driver confronted my much nicer bully, who stopped bullying me and even wrote a nice comment in my yearbook at the end of the year. I faced my mean bully now, hoping and even half expecting such a change. Unfortunately, it was not to be and she made a cutting remark. Still, I left with hope intact.
I was about ten, I guess, or a little younger when I was the given the world’s greatest toy: a Corky doll I named Matthew. I absolutely loved that doll. He was huge, he had curly red hair and there was a built-in tape player in his back, into which you placed a tape and he told stories. His mouth and eyes moved too. I thought he was the coolest toy in the world. I loved him. In fact, I loved him so much that for Breathe’s 2nd birthday, I tracked Corky down on e-bay and bought him. Obviously, he wasn’t the one I’d had and lost—but when that doll showed up on my porch, I can’t tell you how excited I was, or how much joy it gave me watching Breathe play with and enjoy Matthew.
I don’t remember how old I was but I vividly recall the night my aunt told me that if I ever got scared, all I had to do was hold out my hand, palm up, say a prayer asking Jesus to hold my hand and that, a minute or two later, I would feel a heat as if I’d put one of my hands on top of the up-turned one, and how that heat was God’s hand holding mine. I remember the first night I tried it and it worked, how I truly believed that God Himself had reached His down to earth an was holding mine, and how much that comforted me. I went to sleep without ever turning over my hand and when I woke up in the middle of the night to find that my hand no longer rested palm-up, how upset I was. I went to the bathroom and said another prayer, in which I apologized for turning my hand down and asked Him to hold it again through the rest of the night. Such faith. Such hope. Such innocence.
Children approach life differently than adults. They don’t have our reasoning abilities. They don’t know about deductive reasoning. They aren’t as quick to judge tomorrow based on today. They don’t question faith. Alight, my newly turned three year old, was engaged in a conversation with me yesterday. She asked me if a big fish was going to eat her. Horrified, I said, “No, honey. No. You’re not going to be eaten by a fish of any size.” She indignantly replied, “Fish do eat people. it says so in the BIBLE” (she is fascinated by Jonah). Jesus is real to Breathe, she believes in Him with greater confidence than just about any adults, including myself, I know. We call it innocence: this ability to hope and to grasp faith so easily. We think it’s often a result of a sheltered home-life or devout parents. Granted, those things unquestionably contribute to a child’s spiritual development. But even traumatized children approach each new day with hope. A report from the Surgeon General stated that there was a 1.6 rate per 100,000 of childhood suicide from the ages 10-14 in 1996 and it stated that children under 5 do not have suicidal ideas. It is alarming that even one percent of adolescents contemplate and act upon suicidal ideas. On the other hand, ChildHelp released a statistic on their website that states that, in 2007, 5.8 million children were the subjects of child abuse reports in the United States alone. And yet, only 1 percent of children contemplate and act on suicide ideas. Obviously, that’s not to say that the abused children aren’t sad—they are. My only point is that they do not give up on hope, and maintain an amazing faith. They sing “Jesus Loves Me” in Sunday School. They cling to loving and supportive adults. Children, traumatized or healthy, simply believe.
That made me start wondering about adults, and what changes between childhood and adulthood. I understand that we’re able to reason better. I understand that it’s harder for us to see how tomorrow may be any different than today. People say that adult problems are greater than childhood problems. I take exception to that. Review Mark Twain’s quote: “Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.” The problems of childhood may not be concerning shelter or food (at least most of the time) but, to the child, whatever problem does exist is monumental and potentially devastating. The loss of a favorite toy could be a pivotal moment in a child’s life, a closing of a part of their innocence. It should not be easy for us to underestimate a child’s ability to feel simply because they don’t have our logical abilities. Assuming there is truth in Mark Twain’s quote, where, then does all the innocence and faith go?
The reassuring answer is—no where.
I strongly believe that, underneath the layers of nightmares and fears over money (or the lack thereof), beneath betrayals and broken hearts, under the traumatizing effect of cumulative abuse, buried under the doubt exists the same childlike faith and hope that once manifested itself in the child we once were. The only difference is–it’s buried and it is really hard for us to look beyond the fear to see it. We think that to be openly and unashamedly hopeful and joyful and faithful is to mark ourselves naive or gullible. We’d rather be cynical and “prepared” than optimistic. We’d rather look for facts and concrete evidence than trust a God who doesn’t seem to hear most of our prayers. The truth is, though, we’re all still children.
All I have to do to be reminded of this is uncap my blue Bic pen and start writing. The second the words began magically appearing on my paper, I am whisked far away from my grown-up problem and I feel like the five year old who just received that special doll for her birthday. Hope is easy to find when my characters make me laugh. Faith is totally available to me when I trumpet through the house, playing Elephant in the Jungle with my daughters on my back, even more so when I watch them sleep. I believe Joe loves me. I don’t have an X-ray machine to examine his heart, I have no mind-reading abilities. But I choose to believe that when he does something for me, it is because he loves me and simply wants to, rather than for any ulterior motives. When I meet a stranger, I choose to believe that that stranger is a good person, even before I know his name. When I reconnect with old friends via FB, I do so hoping that they remember me in as positive a light as I remember them. And when I open the pages of the Bible and read about Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Abraham and God, Mary upon seeing Gabriel, Samuel as a young boy who didn’t recognize the voice of God, Jesus, thirsty as He hung upon the cross—something moves within my heart and I realize that, despite all the many trials I have seen, despite the fear, despite the frustration, despite being 29 years old, I fully and whole heartedly believe. And I believe because I want to. I believe because I choose to. Sure, I can give you adult rationalizations. I can tell you about meeting people who I know in my heart were angels. I can tell you about nights when I saw what I know were demons. I can rationalize it but, the truth is, an adult who chooses not to believe could rationalize my spiritual events into something “explainable” too. The truth is, I believe in God because I love who He is in the Bible and I cling to the hope that that God is indeed real. I can’t prove He is. What is that, believing without scientific proof, loving with no guarantees it’ll be returned, if not childlike faith and hope, innocence even?
God created us in His image. That’s the memory verse that I’ve been working with the girls on all week. Since it’s already been established that I believe in the validity of the Bible, obviously, I believe this too. Who do I believe God to be? I believe Him to be just and powerful. I believe Him to be kind and merciful. I believe Him to be creative, as the world I live in is a masterpiece unlike anything the human artist could have ever dared contemplate. I believe Him to be passionate as He seeks a personal relationship with each of His people, and there are billions of us on this planet. I also believe Him to be hopeful because, despite knowing of all the evil things that would be done afterward, He sent His Son to die so that He could welcome human beings into paradise. If I was created in His image, then, somewhere beneath all my pain, all my jaded cynical adult views of the world, must be some kindness, some mercy and power, some creativeness, some passion. There must also be hope in me.
And you know what?
I believe there is.