He tells me that the teacher yelled. Not at him, but at this other kid. Then Cole starts bawling. I guess this is one of the moments my daughter has talked about, where I’m supposed to teach him about life.
My grandson is small for his age, with spaghetti wrists and no frame to him that might give me hope. Like his mother that way, delicate. Sensitive. He even has the same fly-away hair that Melissa had as a child. No man in his life except for me. I’m it.
Growing up just happened when Melissa was a child. I provided for her. The rest never crossed my mind. I pat Cole’s shoulder and wish I had bought that new game he wanted, so I could send him to play with that. Cole has so much stuff that Melissa gave him the larger bedroom of the apartment’s two but his belongings are still everywhere.
I spy his book bag on the wicker chair. Homework. That I can do, gratefully I remember how we work on math together, hit the Internet for research, good times. Does he have any assignments for school? His sobs take on new depths and wetness as though his lungs are full of sympathy.
A game of cribbage? I’m teaching him how to play. No. How about we build a house of cards? Find a snack?
He’s got chores that I should tell him to do but suddenly he flings himself onto me, his arms around my legs. I sit down then and he crawls into my lap.
I could promise him that his mother will help him when she gets home. Melissa would know what to say to Cole, but what will I say to her? I glance at the clock but I know it’s another hour at least before we can expect her.
I try to remember what Melissa has said about her son and empathy – I had to look that word up in the dictionary but a definition didn’t help. Think of one way you might be the same as the other person, she said. But this? Cole’s weeping because someone else got hurt. The other kid is probably okay but Cole isn’t. Is this too much empathy? If he keeps this up, he’ll make himself sick.
Melissa says I’m Cole’s male role model. She said what I do and say will be the roots of what he becomes. That can’t be right. What if my bewilderment of this moment when I don’t know what to say or do is the thing that is his example? Will Cole then become someone who hesitates?
If I teach him to sluff this off, will he then someday, watch while someone gets beaten without intervening or at least calling the cops?
Melissa seems to think this is exactly how it works, but that’s irrational. If that were the case then we’re doomed. Nobody gets perfect parenting. There has to be some toughness, some survival instincts. I stroke his hair and wonder if he isn’t running a fever.
All I can do is share how it used to be. It comes to me then, how I used to cry at nothing when I was his age. Not that it did me any good. Not that I want him to keep this up. He’ll be bullied next. He’s almost ten years old and he has to learn that big boys don’t cry.
Only thing is, I feel my throat tightening from some corner that is still tender; still wants life to be fair. It’s not. When does he have to learn this? How can I tell him that?
So we sit chest to chest, like a pair of primates who cuddle in a corner of the zoo, not wanting to look at the humans peering in. Not yet.