The Breaking Point
My father used to be fond of telling a tale about me as a toddler, which has stuck with me into adulthood, and gives some validity to the way I relate to the world and move within it even to this day.
I haven’t retained a lot of memories over the years about the man who contributed to my conception, but this story struck a chord with me where other glimpses into our past together have either faded away, or just don’t otherwise see the light of consciousness too often. I couldn’t tell you if it was true or not, but, knowing me, it feels like something that very likely could and would have happened, and so I’ve hung unto it as if it was since I first heard it in my teens, clinging to the notion that it proves there are certain elements of my personality which are so ingrained in my nature, they’ve just always been there.
I’m sure I couldn’t do justice to his way of relaying it, but I think I can pass along the general idea.
Mother and Father both agree in their recounts of my childhood that I was an uncommonly easy-going and happy baby even from infancy, always smiling and quietly cooing or giggling, except when I was separated from trusted family members and in the presence of strangers, in which case I screamed bloody murder until someone I trusted was once again in my field of vision, whereupon I would be content to completely ignore my beloved caregiver, and go about my own activities, such as they were.
The setting of the incident Father loves to hoot & holler over was one fairly routine Sunday meeting, during the time that Mother and Father were still married and living together as a cohesive unit with my half-brother and half-sister, and we’d all bustled into the family vehicle together, along with my playpen, as well as all the additional equipment and other assorted accoutrement that usually attend the conveyance of a child under 2, including a rather large array of toys for wee tykes. Mother was a firm believer in proactive learning, and would only suffer her offspring to interact with devices which doubled as educational enhancements to early development. (By that philosophy, she’d taught me with the use of creative flash cards to read before I could speak, and always spoke to me in the same manner she would to any other human, regardless of age, so it made for some interesting conversations growing up, but highlights of those can be shared another time.) For this reason, our family always brought our own playpen with our special toys to church whenever any of us were of the appropriate age to make use of them, and this day was no exception.
Father had set up the tot-corral at the back of the sanctuary, as was his habit, while mother went off with my siblings to Children’s Church, where she was a facilitator of children’s worship services. There was a formal nursery in the room just behind the chapel, complete with a window and PA system, so parents wouldn’t have to miss any of the sermon, but Father knew that the parishioners there liked me quite well, and that left to my own devices, I wouldn’t be inclined to disturb the assembly, so long as I was in the presence of a familiar face, and had plenty of materials with which to entertain myself. Father would keep a watchful vigil over me from a nearby vantage point throughout the weekly proceedings; as an over-the-road trucker, he'd normally spend longer hours than humans were built for with his hindquarters glued in a sitting position, so he appreciated any excuse to stand.
On this particular church morning, another father of a small thing flurried through the double doors at the rear while the address was already in progress, red-faced and sweating from what surely must have been a harried entrance. He was not a regular member of the congregation, and had missed the posted signs pointing out the available nursery for cherubs such as his. Spying my playpen, he assumed it belonged to the organization, and dropped in his chubby tub of progeny, at the corner opposite to the space I occupied, like fighters in a ring. Father raised an eyebrow at this, wondering if this potentially turbulent scenario spelled out trouble waiting to happen, but, knowing my tolerant demeanor, he determined to merely keep an eye on it, without causing a stir for the obviously beleaguered visiting young family.
Apparently, this new addition to my normally solitary environment appeared to be about 6-8 months older than me, and probably twice my weight. I'm told I looked him over as he began surveying his surroundings, but mostly ignored him, not considering shared space to be an interruption of my standard routine. The kid began playing with my toys, one by one, and I made no fuss over this. I had grown up with other kids in my home, and was not naturally possessive of things. It would seem, though, that the little infidel had not been so benevolently reared. Like an overly pampered princess, he could find no joy in any single one of my playthings, and so was naturally compelled to experience and/or break, collect and hoard them all. I made note of this, but did nothing. If there was some distraction available to me, I was content.
For a while, this arrangement was sufficient. I had a few toys within my reach, and he began to pile the rest of them around himself, one by one, like a pudgy dragonling drawing treasure into a nest. He busied himself with shoveling the lion's share of my toys into mounds, working up a sweat while pushing them on top of one another with his miniature sausage fingers, and I was content to pretend he didn't exist.
This went on for a while, each of us keeping out of the other's way, until he had exhausted all of the baubles in his general vicinity, and began moving towards the remainder. He crossed the expanse between us on his knees, and continued his quest to control all he could accumulate, which seemed to be everything he assessed. This had him mustering from my corner, and I left him alone to do so. There were plenty of toys to share, even with a stingy brat.
Until there weren't.
When the young tycoon had finally amassed my entire fortune into his quadrant – all but the one I was using at the time – he came to get the last remaining trinket for his trove. He grabbed it right out of my hand, and brought it back to his den, while I watched. I understand I cocked my head like a curious puppy as the last of my novelties disappeared from my grasp, and wandered over to the other side. I waited until he settled into his own space, and then crawled myself across the now empty space, retrieved a single item from the edge of the heap nearest me, and returned to my corner with it.
As soon as I had done so, the puckish scamp snatched it back.
This pattern went on two more times, until the third time he swiped a toy directly from me. On that occasion, when he returned to the top of the hill, I ignored the low hanging fruit at the outer ring, and invaded his inner circle. This time, I swiped the toy he'd taken from me right out of his plump and stingy digits, whapped him upside the head with it, and retreated back to my corner. After a few seconds of blinking in shock, it took him that long to go from sniveling to bawling.
It was all my father could do to stifle a chortle outburst and contain himself to muted titters as the weary guest sire scooped up his screaming urchin and hustled out to find the nearest noise dampener.
And I went on about my day like normal, completely unstirred.
Whether this anecdote is an historically accurate account of a moment in my childhood or the fantastic fictional concoction of an overly proud parent, I may never know, but, I've always liked it because, somehow, it just feels like me.
In life, people will push your boundaries. They'll take them as far as you will allow them to, but, at some point, you have to know where to draw the line that says, THIS far, and NO further. And when you're pushed, you have to know what you'll do in response. In my case, I either learned this lesson very early on, or I simply came into the world with an ingrained understanding that most of petty little annoyances and minor grievances in life will never really matter all that much...
...until they do.
And when they do, there's no need to fuss about it. There's no changing your circumstances by throwing a temper tantrum or tattling. Just find the simplest solution, and take it.
Then get back to business as usual...
...because life goes on.
LJ Idol | Season 8 • Week 11 - Topic: OPEN
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