There was blood everywhere. Dripping slowly from his nose, in and around his mouth, on his chin and from there on his chest, over his small blue raincoat. He looked like a tiny version of a hungry, crying vampire. Each time I wanted to calm him down, he would hastily think that he will be forced to leave the playground and go home and he would cry even more.
And even more blood would lace his raincoat.
What was I supposed to do? There is no manual for such a thing, a book or a web site which I could open and find out what one should do in such a situation.
If your child does this, then you should do this and then this and then everything will be in its own place again.
Of course, there are guides and information one can read and think about but the multitude of possible cases is overwhelming. What you can learn and try to master ahead of time is just the generic stuff. When it comes down to a specific event, you are left alone having to deal with your child’s mood and your own emotions. And with the bystanders. They are always there, wherever you might be, throwing disapproving glances and making you feel even more unfit to be a parent.
As a child, I thought that being grown up is something special. I thought that these people, my parents, for example, know what they are doing, even if they had not always understood what we, the children, had really wanted. They seemed secure in their decisions, they had jobs and responsibilities, etc. As if they only decided to have children after they took a sort of test, which proofed their skills as parents and grownups. To my surprise, I never managed to get to this stage. One day we decided to have a child and then… we had one. Now, he’s here and we learn how to be together every day, one step at a time. I have no idea what “secure in my decisions” could mean. And I do not know how having a job and responsibilities would make me a better parent. Or a parent at all. It does not follow, there is no connection between them. Most of the time I feel as if I were somewhere in the jungle, dealing with the unexpected at every moment. With my wife and child at my side, I feel like a settler in a land where no human has ever set foot before.
Welcome into the wild!
Because this is the real wilderness, the real jungle.
It is wild not having anything under control. As someone put it, to have a child is to embrace a future you cannot control. Your own decisions matter less, the way you want to spend your time becomes insignificant. Correction, your time ceases to exist.
Sendak wrote and drawn a little book called Where the Wild Things Are. What were the wild things for him? The crazy kids, the wild children, right? Wrong! Sendak’s wild things were actually not the kids. They were the grown-ups. Those (potentially) malicious beasts with whom Max comes in contact were those who had to take care of him. They were the wild ones. Mother and father, uncle and aunt, neighbors, friends of the parents, etc. They were those who Max managed to tame (or so he thought) but at the same time, those able to destroy everything with a simple move of the arm or with a single raised finger (brush your teeth, or enough ice cream, or put the light out and go to bed, or enough television for today). They were (physically) stronger, demanding, hideous looking (though unimportant if you do not know what conceptual beauty is anyway), almost sex-less (again, less significant for a kid). The world is full of beasts you have to tackle. But one should always remember that this rings true in both directions, for parents as well as for kids. Even if we think of the little ones as the wildest creatures, we too are made of maddening stuff, we too do not play by the rules (because we do not know them or we do not care to know them). We are those who one day can be your friend (and cover you in kisses, whether you want it or not) and the next day could eat you up (almost not figuratively). How often do we try to understand that, perhaps, the child is using a way of reasoning that has little in common with what we call reason? Perhaps his actions make perfect sense in his world. Who are we to break this world apart and force it to mold on our own experiences and expectations? We should better take the time to see through this world, to understand how it works, to come close to it and to its maker, to our own Max. And if our worlds seem to drift farther and farther apart from each other, perhaps we should abandon our preoccupation with other things (staring at the glowing screen of a cellphone, for example), we should stop demanding and instead bring a balance, reach out for Max and try to be his very good friend. Because, after all, that’s what he wants too, but unlike us he’s less able to understand it, as he’s less able to see the whole situation in concepts (as we do) and thus incapable to manage it properly. It should never become a battle of wills, because that’s not what it is all about in the first place.
The only thing I could think was that he has to calm down, otherwise his nose bleeding will not stop and he will lose it completely. I picked him up and tried to contain him with my arms, talking to him in a calm and slow voice. His fighting, his throwing of limbs and shaking of head were not easy to hold but somehow I managed. Pacing slowly up and down the alley, I kept telling him that everything is OK, that he needs to take it easy so that his nose would stop bleeding. At the beginning he didn’t even care to listen but soon he realized he does not have much choice. His breathing started to get normal, interrupted every now and then by his elaborated sighs. After a quarter of an hour, my arms slightly aching, I decided it was safe to put him on the ground again. It was already dark - one of those evenings in January where the change between afternoon and evening happens all of a sudden. I told him we are going to go home now and gave him my hand. Sighing once again he reached out to me and we walked slowly to the tram and made for home.
A few steps later I caught a whiff of… Oh, no… Well… He needed new diapers, too.