They emerge as blank slates. Little by little, they grow human. Eyes blink open, learn to focus. Fingers wave through air, learn to clutch. You witness the humanity of discovery, as pudgy hands hold a squishy earthworm. You witness the humanity of joy, as squeals emerge from a smiling mouth, arms hugging a wiggly puppy. You marvel at the transformation. Once a lump of appendages, alive but only reactive, now a soul animating its body, connected heart to heart with you.
And yet, they are not fully human until they learn misery. The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad moments for which there is no remedy, only empty complaint, reluctant acceptance, and a stiff upper lip.
No, kids are not people until they learn that life kinda sucks sometimes. Here then, are eight minor miseries that confirm your kid’s humanity.
1. Eating a sour grape
The bag is full to bursting. Little purple spheres spill over the top, saved from a great fall by twiggy vines. A shower under the faucet and two dozen plucks become a healthy snack. The first few bites pay the promise. Juicy and sweet, nearly melting between the molars. And then the rogue smuggles in his disgusting cargo. Traitor. He appeared no different than the others. A shapeshifter stink bug, squirting poison down your throat. Yuck and spit. But how many more of his kind have infiltrated the bunch? Each bite now hesitant, a test. Reward or remorse? Only the tongue can tell. Step right up, test your luck.
2. Popping your balloon animal
Five minutes ago, it was only stretchy strips, each color stuffed into a different pocket of the loud man’s vest. I’ll make anything, he bellowed. Anything your mind’s eye could see. Only one image appeared in the viewfinder: T-Rex. The loud man accepted the challenge, arms a blur, pumping air, twisting and squeaking green and orange and yellow balloons, chattering constantly, birthing a surrealist thunder lizard. Light as a feather in your hand, T-Rex rages through the park, roaring and stomping across the grass. He chases ducks, leaps onto the merry-go-round, cavorts into the landscaping. Alas! It took a giant space rock to obliterate his compatriots. Squeaky balloon T-Rex is a poor imitation, cut down by a single thorny rose. Leave his carcass where it lays, a warning to other pint-sized dinosaur wranglers. Beware the bushes.
3. Not having enough milk for your cereal
Seven hours of adding fractions, of composing persuasive essays, of filling tiny test bubbles, of running laps inside a humid gym, of shrieking across the playground in pursuit of friends. Seven hours have left your belly empty and your glucose stores bereft. It was mostly the fractions, if we’re being honest. Math is a grind. Snack time. Snatch a well-worn book from your shelf, shake two servings of raisin bran into a bowl and splash a flood of milk on top. The cardboard udder runs dry too soon, no more than ⅓ of a cup splattering over the parched flakes. Fractions again. What are chewy raisins and scratchy bran without moo juice? They are as plain waffles, unsalted soda crackers, stale white bread, two scoops of sand. Buck up, I say. At least they won’t be soggy.
4. Stubbing your toe
In the dark you crept, planning a sneak attack on mom. She was easy prey, distracted by the phone in her hand. Just before the pounce, the coffee table tripped you up. Your mother is startled indeed, the phone falling from her hand at the wounded animal cry from your throat. You succeeded in scaring her, but at what cost? Your roast beef piggie cries wee, wee, wee. The boo-boo kisses are powerless, the ice pack too cold. Your pulse throbs through the hinterland of your foot, a steady refrain. Not dead not dead just hurt just hurt. The coffee table sits askew, its smirk hidden in the dark. You’d like to kick it again, and hard. But which of the remaining piggies is brave enough for battle?
5. First one of your nostrils is blocked with snot, then it switches
You live the destiny of a winter birthday. Crowded classrooms, drooly friends, too many germy hands rooting through tubs of plastic building blocks. Sneezing on presents, coughing on the cake. You are 5, but the mucus above your lips says 11. We blow and blow into a blizzard of tissues. At last, an unobstructed inhale! You play a fanfare on your new kazoo, announcing to your kingdom the end of congestion. But the plague returns, slow and plump as a snail, filling the other hole, which once was clean. Why, you sob. Everything in life is balance, I say. The yin and yang, the stuffy and the clear. Now blow.
6. Having to leave the warm nest of snuggly covers because you forgot to pee
The wind is a wolf, howling through trees. Glass rattles in the window frame. Wearing soft rocketship pajamas, you burrow under the blanket, Paw Patrol on top. The orca lovie squeezed tight against your chest, you murmur a catalog of the day’s adventures, talking yourself into dreams. Your body relaxes. Your bladder tightens. Teeth were brushed, face was washed, medicine was taken. Where did you put your pee-pee? In the potty? Not yet! You must venture out of the nest, down the metal rungs of the bunk bed ladder, along the hallway and onto the cold stone of the throne. Maybe pull-ups weren’t so bad after all. Remember to wash your hands!
7. Wet socks
Once more into the drizzle we go, my friends. Hoods up, zippers tight, feet invincible inside rubber boots. Gray clouds and wide puddles won’t chase us inside. Onward we march, to the library, to the grocery store, to the bakery. The world glistens, each blade of grass a technicolor spike of green. Away you hop, bunny rabbits on your mind, frolicking in a zig-zag back and forth across the sidewalk. A challenge: the puddle so deep and wide only a giant could step across dry. You whirlwind dance straight through the center on little legs, spray in all directions like a spinning dolphin in a show. Too late, we find the tear at the base of the boot, the defenses breached. Achilles wept. Each step now a mushy cold squelch, and not one of our errands complete. The protection becomes a prison, the boot holding wrinkly toes inside clingy cotton. Splash on, Peter Rabbit. You won’t melt.
8. Throwing up
There is a bug in you. Something invisible that wants to kick out all that your stomach contains. You know this feeling. It’s what happens when mom drives too fast down windy roads. You try to swallow it down, but the feeling floats back up your throat. You fight it with tears and wailing. If you scream and cry hard enough, maybe the bug in you will be scared away. Mom rubs your back, kisses your forehead. I don’t wanna, you whimper. We know, I say. It’s awful. But you gotta get the bug out. You’ll feel better. You purse your lips and stare into the toilet, shaking your head. And then, without warning, a great gush of iridescent red fluid jets out of your mouth. You have become a shapeshifting stink bug. We flush it away, but again and again you fill the bowl. Afterward, a cool washcloth, a long hug. A half smile on your face. Another feeling you know: “When you throw up, your mouth feels like salsa.” Truth, my son. Truth.