SUNGLASSES

SUNGLASSES

From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Sunglasses

We have a picture of him somewhere, a brokenhearted five-year-old, slumped on a bench at Disney World, eyes fighting back tears, lips so tense you can almost see them quivering, his felt Mickey Mouse ears cocked to one side.

Or maybe we don’t have a picture, except in our minds. And yet it’s the same image my husband and I share: A sunny day, white light glinting off the windows on Main Street, reflecting off dozens of chrome carriages with chrome wheels, light and heat shimmering everywhere and our two children clamoring for sunglasses, “Please, Mommy? Please, Daddy? Pleeeze!”

We ducked into a shop and Rob picked out Donald Duck glasses, blue and white plastic things that slid down his nose and made him look far more like Scrooge McDuck than Donald Duck. But we didn’t tell him this. He loved those glasses. Lauren, three and already into fashion, chose pink Minnie Mouse glasses because she was dressed in pink that day.

They wore them out of the dark store into the day, up Main Street, through the castle and into Fantasyland. During “Peter Pan’s Flight” they took them off and clutched them in their hands, and they did the same in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” On “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” they had them on, I know, because we have a picture of them smiling and waving.

Somehow, somewhere, after that, maybe when he was getting off that ride, maybe when he stopped to tie his sneaker or fix his Mickey ears, or maybe when we were having lunch, the Donald Duck glasses disappeared. And Robbie, who was five and loved those glasses, cried.

“If you had loved them you would have taken better care of them,” is what we said to him. Or something like that. Imagine. But we were young and new at this parenting thing, and weren’t we supposed to teach him to take care of what was his? Wasn’t it our duty to make sure that he knew that money didn’t grow on trees?

What did those sunglasses cost? A dollar? Two dollars? What harm would it have done to wipe his tears and say, “Come on, we’ll get you another pair. I know you didn’t mean to lose them.” Would he have grown up to be a bad person? Would he have been corrupted in some unforeseeable way?

Lauren said, “You can have mine, Robbie.” But he didn’t want hers. They were pink and for girls. And his were blue and for boys. And they were gone, and he had loved them and he was miserable.

If I had it to do over, I’d have marched back down Main Street and bought a brand-new pair of Donald Duck glasses and pretended that I found them on the ground. I would have yelled, “Hey, look what I have!” And he would have leaped up and come running and laughed and thrown his arms around me and put on those glasses and this would be the memory of that day.

You live and you learn.

A few months ago we were in Orlando, not exactly at the scene of the crime, but close enough. Our son, long an adult, was there on business and we flew down to meet him, and in the flurry of rental cars and restaurants and going here and there, guess what? He lost his sunglasses.

We didn’t scold him, didn’t even think about saying, if you really liked them you would have taken better care of them, because people lose things all the time. Instead we did what most adults do for other adults: We helped him figure out where he could have lost them and—what do you know—he found them in a meeting room he’d been in the day before.

He was grinning when he walked to the car, his steps light and quick, his sunglasses hiding his eyes, nothing of the five-year-old left in him to see.

Except I saw.

He was my first child, and the first has it the hardest, because you’re new at this and you go by the book and you don’t want to mess up and be too soft, but you mess up anyway, because what do you know?

I know that as parents we have an obligation to teach our children. But I also know that everything doesn’t have to be a lesson. That sometimes, lost sunglasses are just what they are: lost sunglasses and nothing more.

Beverly Beckham

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