“I going kill myself.”
No sooner did it leave his lips than I pounced on his statement with a question.
“Where did you hear that?”
His little formative 3-year-old mind had already moved on to more fertile pastures, a grouping of Lego blocks for the moment.
“Where did you hear that, Finn?”
I didn’t want to scare or provoke my little son, but the surging tension in my vocal cords betrayed my heart. I wasn’t ready for that. I don’t know that any parent ever could be, but I certainly wasn’t ready for it thirty-six months into the game. I’m usually the calm one.
“Charlie Brown say it.”
Awkward isn’t the only thing Charlie is selling. Apparently.
And there it was. I yanked open the file cabinet drawers of my experience searching for every instance I could recall of Charlie Brown’s self-deprecation. Every ounce of his “woe-is-me” bullshit. There were many.
And I hated myself for it.
Apparently, more than one bald-headed kid has had a non-optimum influence on my son.
But I hate writing this even now. Acknowledging it. Focusing the spotlight on this thing. This is his story to tell, not mine. Hell, he probably won’t even remember it.
“Do you know what that means?”
He didn’t. He was downright chipper. How could he grasp it? But there was a glimmer, an echo of resonance. He understood it meant something painful. Unpleasant, at least.
“It means you hurt yourself. Hurt more than anything.”
As a parent, you try so hard to place your child or children in a setting to thrive. You give them everything you can possibly provide. And then some. You share in the experience of watching them become people instead of fleshy marshmallow creatures. It’s magical. And complicated.
I’ve tried to offer my history to him through old cartoons, photos of my life and visiting places I used to play. Little did I know that those old places were filled with lead paint and sharp edges, those old cartoons rife with coarse themes. And now, they’ve given my son something to unconsciously parrot back to me.
Have I failed him?
I’m no helicopter parent. I’m not a fan of raising children in plastic bubbles. And these nostalgic tokens I’ve shown him of my past built me in many ways, good and bad, but I feel… responsible. I recognize he didn’t quite grasp what he was saying, but this is the moment when we start learning, both of us, that saying things we don’t mean can have consequences. That words are symbols for emotion and action.
And I’ve discovered that I’m not afraid of his frailty. I’m afraid of mine.