My heart broke for little Mad Dog the other day.
I picked her up from day camp and, instead of bounding up to me with a smile and a hug – she shuffled over, head down, with tear-stained cheeks.
Apparently, scant seconds earlier, she was finishing up an art project when, through circumstances beyond her control, it was ruined. She was making an intricate pattern of brightly colored plastic beads that were to be pressed with a hot iron, fusing them together and creating one piece. As she carried her beads to the ironing table, a kid accidentally bumped into her, causing her to fall. All of the little beads had scattered all over the floor, and the project was ruined.
She had made it for her cousin, but because it was the end of the day and there was no time to start over, she had nothing left to show for her hard work.
Seeing her looking so dejected was heartbreaking. Mad Dog is my tough girl. She generally doesn’t cry unless she’s in serious pain or has been significantly wronged. And she wasn’t sobbing either – like her siblings would do. Instead, her eyes were wells of tears and she just looked – broken.
I was instantly transported back to when I was 8 years old. I was in the third grade and had made a planter for my favorite teacher. It was made from an old coffee can and had sea shells glued to it and inside was a tiny cactus. Not the kind with the hard prickly needles – but the type that looks hairy and soft.
As I carefully cradled it in my hands, protecting it during the bumpy bus ride, I imagined my teacher’s reaction when I would give it to her. I replayed different scenarios before settling on the one where she gave me a hug and offered that I be her special helper for the day. Special helpers got to do little classroom chores like run notes to the office and erase the chalkboard. That bus ride seemed so long, because I was so excited to hand over my gift and receive my special assignment.
After arriving at school, we all had to stand outside for a few minutes and wait for the doors to be unlocked. I showed off my planter to my friends and relayed how excited I was to give it to our teacher, when all of a sudden – WHAM!
From out of nowhere, a fifth-grade boy took a practice swing with a baseball bat and hit me right in the stomach, sending my plant flying. It was truly an accident, he thought he had enough room and neither of us saw the other before it was too late.
I fell to the ground, having had the wind completely knocked out of me. My plant fell too, and pieces of shell, cactus and dirt flew everywhere.
On the ground, on all fours, I looked at the remains of the planter. What had happened was incomprehensible. The blow (both literal and figurative) had come out of the blue and my dream of delighting my teacher with the little cactus was gone.
It's a sucky feeling to be strolling along, happy as can be, and then have somebody pull the rug out from underneath you. One day, you’re on top of your game and the next, you’re at the bottom of the heap – and it can happen in a snap.
Life’s like that a lot when you’re a single mom.
One minute you’re cruising along, bills are paid, gas tank’s full, fridge is stocked and you’ve got just enough cash to make it until payday, when WHAM! Some stupid-assed thing comes along and screws things up.
You know, it can be something big – like the time the window on my minivan fell down into the door for no reason at all – an unbudgeted repair that cost nearly $500. And other times, it’s something smaller – like getting called to pick up a sick child on a workday full of meetings and deadlines.
Either way, after the initial blow, what matters is how quickly you’re able to rebound. And rebound, you must – because when a single mom’s down – things can go from bad to worse in a hurry. There’s simply nobody else to lean on when it’s just you running the show.
I like to think I’m fairly resourceful and relatively thick-skinned, but sometimes, when that unexpected monkey wrench gets tossed in, I just want to cry.
I wasn’t sure how Mad Dog would handle the setback. Eight-year olds are border line when it comes to emotional stability. They want to be treated like big kids, but still throw the occasional tantrum. I was unsure if she’d pout and cry or shrug her shoulders and walk away.
I searched her face for a hint of her next move. She thought for a minute and what she said next threw me for a loop.
Mad Dog asked if I would bring her back to camp on Friday, so she could do the project over again. This was a surprising request. After all, I’d planned to take Friday off so she could skip camp and go to a quick dentist appointment and then onto an afternoon movie. Despite the appealing offer, a movie in a real movie theater, mind you, not at home on a DVD, she held steadfast on her decision.
Now that’s determination.
But my little Mad Dog is like that. She’s not one to take any guff from anyone. She’s way stronger than I was at eight. She’s more confident, more sure of herself.
Maybe someday, if she finds herself a single mom, she’ll approach unexpected setbacks with more confidence and certainty than I. She’ll be even more resourceful and have a thicker skin.
And most of all, she won’t have that overwhelming desire to go fetal.
Nah, she’ll be alright...
she’ll be the one holding the bat.