I must have been 5 or 6 years old. It was the summer holidays, and my maternal grandparents were visiting us. Their visit meant being regaled by fantastic stories, and spoiled with fancy meals, treats and unexpected gifts.
One day, my grandmother called me to their room and gifted me a comb made of glass. It was a real comb, not a toy. I was enchanted – still am, truth be told (though the adult in me wonders who would be foolish enough to manufacture a comb made of glass, how they sold it, and why my grandmother gave it to me when I was so little and could easily have injured myself or someone else with it). It had belonged to my mother when she was little. That set the seal on it. I didn’t have an altar, but had I had one, the glass comb would have been on it! 🙂
My grandmother told me that she had preserved it over so many years so she could give it to her eldest grandchild (me). She handed it over almost ceremonially, and I promised solemnly to take care of it, to preserve it so it could be handed to my child.
Granny smiled her approval.
My sister woke up from her nap to find me brandishing the glass comb. I told her all about it. She doesn’t have a jealous bone in her body (didn’t even then), and was delighted with my acquisition. I decided I would do my hair and hers with it – just to mark the day as a special one, after which we’d put it away carefully and ensure it stayed safe.
You know what happened next. One of the teeth broke off. We were lucky neither of us was hurt; we weren’t physically injured, but I was inconsolable. Firstly, I’d damaged something that my mother had had in her childhood. Secondly, it was irreplaceable. Thirdly, I’d damaged it despite my best intentions to keep it in pristine condition to be handed down to my progeny. Fourthly, I’d broken it the very day I’d got it, not even two hours after it had been gifted to me! A worse fate could not be imagined. ( 🙂 )
My grandmother took me aside and into her arms. “Why are you so upset?” I told her all the above, and perhaps more.
And then she said something which has stayed with me forever. “When even human beings don’t last forever, why cry over a comb?”
My tears stopped instantly – as if they’d dried up at the source. This was a new idea. I’d heard about death before. I knew about death and what it meant. But this was the first time death had assumed immediacy, a direct application to life – my life; me, who had never till then experienced death even at second hand!
Of course, in the decades since that day, I have ‘lost it’ and ‘cried over’ innumerable things people circumstances feelings movies books incidents, but increasingly, this idea has become more present to me, and I am calmer and less inclined to fly off the handle than before.
Recently, a video on Youtube went viral. A TV host asked some parents to tell their children that they’d eaten all the kids’ Halloween candy and record the kids’ reaction. I imagine everyone who watched the video was ‘rolling on the floor laughing’ (ROFL in Facebook, IM, PM and text lingo), but mainly because (i) they knew it was made up (the candy wasn’t all finished), and (ii) it wasn’t their kid howling for the lost candy.
If you were actually confronted by your child screaming for candy he had lost, I think you’d be shuddering with horror rather than laughing. “It’s only candy,” you plead, “we’ll get some more. We’ll get some the next time we go to the store. I know it was special candy. I’ll find out where it’s sold and we’ll buy it from there. Okay, we’ll go get some tomorrow, when the stores open, but stop crying. It’s okay, it’s only candy.”
But he keeps repeating how he wants ‘those’ candies – the ones his friend/sibling took or that fell by the wayside or the dog ate up or got washed in the laundry or… “It’s only candy,” you repeat, your energy ebbing, your will bludgeoned into submission. Sorry, he’s not buying it.
“It’s CANDY!” he tells you, since you haven’t yet got it. 🙂
Over the next few years, he learns ‘it’s only candy’. But other things replace ‘candy’. As more years go by, he learns for those things as well, that ‘it’s only candy’.
The point is: we all have our candy. What’s yours?
That she should fill the ice-cube tray up to a particular point? That his cupboard should be arranged a certain way? That she should / should not wear hotpants? That he should wake up at 5am and study for an hour because research reveals morning hours are the best to concentrate and retain what you’re learning? That her waist should measure 23”? That he must get at least 95% in every test, project, exam?
Your child will be gone – to study, to work, to live his/her own life. Whether or not you realize it, the time you have together is short (though it seems like eons, sometimes! 🙂 ). And you’re screaming about candy, and she’s telling you “it’s only candy”, and you’re not getting it. 🙂
But sometimes, a glass comb breaks. Your child meets a special thing, the opportunity of a lifetime, a fork in the road, and you’re afraid he’s making (or has made) the wrong choice.
You’re convinced he should be an artist, when he wants set up and run a business.
You know this girl is wrong for him (is any girl/boy ever good enough for your precious son/daughter? NO! 🙂 At least, not for long. Now that you know this, bite the bullet and be gracious.) – she’s a terrible influence on him, she’s taking him away from his family, friends and hobbies – but he’s serious enough to talk to you about getting engaged to her.
She wants to go camping with a bunch of friends, one of whom is on drugs while another is known for her promiscuity, and nothing you say, nothing you promise her makes any difference. She’s determined to go with them.
You’re getting divorced, and your daughter, out of a (you feel) misplaced sense of loyalty, decides to go with your partner, because her sibling chooses to stay with you. You’re convinced that without you to act as a buffer, she will suffer terrible physical and emotional neglect at your partner’s hands, but she won’t change her mind.
These are the big ones – the glass combs. They can change the course of your child’s life, and you get palpitations if you let yourself think too deeply about such decisions.
Alright, take a break from thinking about your child. Think about yourself, instead, about your life. You’ve had such ‘glass combs’, haven’t you? Some of the choices you made turned out alright. Others didn’t. But on the whole, you’re muddling along alright, aren’t you?
If you think you’re not alright, well, step up and change things! You’re an adult, after all, with more sense, experience, knowledge, maturity (all the stuff you keep throwing at your child! 🙂 ) than your child. Get out there and change things for yourself!
Sure you’ve broken some glass combs! Pick a glass comb you broke a long time back. It seemed awful at the time I’m sure, like the end of the world. But out of that ‘end’ came a beginning, out of which came other endings and other beginnings.
This is a serpent whose tail you can’t reach – as time goes by and your life circumstances change and you change, what seemed awful can turn out to be one of the best things that could have happened to you (I should know – I’m divorced! 😉 ). In similar fashion, something that was awesome at the time is a nuisance now (you know this one – when you get something you wish for only to discover you don’t want it 🙂 ).
If you look closely, candy or glass comb, ‘it’s only candy’. And there’s always more candy! 🙂