Been parenting for a long time here, years – decades – during which things that would horrify the uninitiated – years without a full nights’ sleep? Packing a small suitcase every time you leave the house? Diapers? And diapers? And still more diapers? – yes, all of that and more becomes just the way you live your life.

And most of it I don’t mind a bit. You get used to sleeping in short sessions, and before you know it, that’s over and you’re marveling and sprawled-out toddlers snoozing for 10 hours at a stretch. Changing diapers is like blowing your nose. Sort of. Yes, toys are everywhere, yes squabbles happen hourly, yes, you have to learn a whole other way of being between 4 and 7, a way of being that is designed to avoid meltdown.

But you just do.

I have to say, though, that there’s one feature of life with children that really, really irritates me.  I mean: drives me crazy and actually angers me, even though I’ve been observing it for twenty years now. It’s this:

Scene: Child A is playing, digs out Forgotten Toy from the depths of the toy box. Forgotten Toy was given to Child B a year ago. Child B played with Forgotten Toy for a couple of days, and then, well…forgot about it.

Enter Child B.

Child B: What are you doing?

Child A: Playing.

Child B: With what?

Child A: Forgotten Toy.


Enter Mother, trying to keep her cool ahead of time, although she knows exactly what this is going to be about.

Mother: What’s wrong?


Mother: You haven’t played with it in a year. It’s been stuffed in the bottom of the toy box, and you haven’t thought about it once for 363 days. There are a hundred other toys. But you have to have this toy, right now?


I swear, that dynamic, that reaction – the insistence that Forgotten Toy must be handed over right here, right now makes me want to go on strike.

It comes to mind because of what happened at Mass yesterday. I let Joseph take a couple of coloring books to Mass, as well as his little Mass books. And I do want you to know that at 5 1/2, we’re seeing definite improvement in behavior at Mass – he’s never really difficult anymore, and yesterday, for the first time, he was actually quite interested in following along much of Mass in his book. So – take heart. It happens.

Well..except for this moment.

In the coloring books I’d stuck a sticker book for Michael. I dug it out from the bottom of the coloring book basket – a Babar sticker book I’d picked up at the Dollar Store in February, stocking up for 8 hours in an airplane across the Atlantic. About half the stickers had been used – I gave it to Michael, who, for his part is being very difficult at Mass these days: chatty, no sense of what "shhh" means, stubborn, and worst of all, at the stage at which even pointing things out to him to get his attention is risky because odds are he will get excited and repeat what you’re telling him about VERY LOUDLY. ‘JESUS!" "SHEEP!" "LIGHTS!" "JESUS OW!" "BABY!"

But he did like the sticker book. It absorbed him. And then Joseph noticed what he was doing, and I could immediately tell, by his widening eyes and furrowed brow: This will not do. This is Forgotten Toy.

Sure enough. Despite the fact that he was not very interested it on the plane in the first place, and then stuck it away for 8 months – all of a sudden he was very concerned about his Barbar sticker book, and no, Michael must not ruin it, and oh no, he’s putting the stickers in the wrong place and…

You get it. It just makes no sense to me. Perhaps because I’m an only child. Probably because I’m an only child.

But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s practically the definition of envy. So often, it never occurs to us to want something until we see that someone else has it. We’re satisfied with our lot until we spy someone enjoying something we think is rightfully ours. And then, we can’t rest easy until we have it, too – and all the better if the other person has lost what they have.

When I was a child…

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