The easy part is, well, knowing when to quit, you think after you order lunch for you and the grandkid. You hand back the menu to the waiter. What’s the hard part? It’s the grief. It’s the knowing you could have, should have done more, but just got in your own way, got all tangled up in the questions like a dog on a leash chasing a cat around your legs. No, like holding a tangled mess of strings and trying to figure out which one leads to the treasure chest.
Like the brain teaser that the kid studies on his placement as he unwraps the complimentary crayons. Hey kid, which noodle leads to the meatball, the sauce, the milkshake, the apple, the whatever? Only the puzzle is a hairball jumble the size of a playing card and the kid says to you, “I need help”.
And you mutter, “Don’t we all.”
Then you curse the restaurant owner under your breath because you can’t escape for two hours to have a god%@&# burger without picking up another jumble of questions.
So you :
a) tell the kid they’re on their own, you forgot your trifocals, or
b) say, “sure I’ll help you”, but with a weighty sigh of emotional consequence.
In either case, the kid gets annoyed with you and takes back the crayon, pushes your hand off the placemat, even when you then feel bad and insist on helping and try to pull the thing back.
The kid holds the crayon out of your reach and says, “No, I’ll do it.”
And you say, “I can help.”
And the kid says, “No, I want to.” And by his tone you know if he could, this child is really saying, “Mitts off, f*%$#r. I gave you a chance to show me what you got in the way of direction, and all you got is s#!t.”
But the kid doesn’t have these words, being a blank slate and all, and because you have, yet again, projected your baggage onto him.
You sip your Arnold Palmer to soothe the fact that a kid has just called you out. So you feign interest in his earnestness, the way he attacks the puzzles on that damn mat. Understand, then conquer. Next. He does not wonder about the consequences nor does he try to figure out the 3-, 5-, and 10-year implications of his choices. With gleeful kicks of his legs, he masters that s#!t before the appetizers arrive. Tick tack toe – check. Circle the hidden words – check. Get the mouse through the maze to the chunk of cheese – check.
Back to that jangle of noodles. What does he do? He doesn’t stay on the same noodle. No, he traces the shortest path to the nearest object even if it means taking impossible angles that a noodle would never willingly make.
And you protest, “That’s not right!”
The kid looks at you like, prove it. And he “matches” each noodle in its turn to a different object, using a different colored crayon, never tracing over the same line. Done!
What do you say? “Ah, there’s our dinner!”, and a mite too cheerfully, at that.
Because you have been a schmuck. And the kid? He has moved on to constructing a three-story chalet from sugar packets and now dusts it with a “snowstorm” from the salt shaker.