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Little murders

It is the first Saturday in December. Downtown, Starbucks is decked out in green and red with jazzy Christmas carols swirling overhead. Peppermint and eggnog lattes are the chosen fare. The line of customers is a solid wall of padded figures in thick coats, scarves and hats.

A little boy, about 6, half sits, half dangles from a chair directly adjacent to the door. Outside, a homeless man in ripped pants paces from window to window, talking to himself. Every time the door opens, a bitter cold breeze blows through. The boy, freckled with brown hair, catches sight of a girl just about his own age, a bright blonde dressed from head to toe in pink and purple. Like puppies, they sniff around, getting to know one another briefly while his mother and her parents wait in line for their order.

The girl's parents finally emerge, their gloved hands loaded with cardboard cups of mocha, hot chocolate, coffee. The girl pulls on her pink coat and hood, white fur surrounding her pale face. As the family edges toward the door, the boy stands near, looking up into the faces of the tall parents.

"Can you open the door for us?" the girl says in a voice half coaxing, half bossy.

He stands straight and puffs up, ready for the task, then pushes with all his might against the heavy glass door, his round head well below the door handle. The parents slide by, then his new friend.

"Can't you say please?" the mother urges her daughter. The girl smiles at the boy. The father says thank you. And then they are gone down the sidewalk.

The boy carefully edges back into Starbucks, the door closing slowly behind him when his mother swoops up and grabs him by the collar of his coat.

"Haven't I told you never to leave the building!?" she shrieks under her breath, pulling the boy by the arm back to his seat. "Never!"

He looks up for a brief moment, his mouth open ready to explain, then collapses his head onto his arms in defeat, sobbing quietly into his pillowed sleeves. Her rant softens at the sight of his despair, but she doesn't give up.

"Are you going to say you're sorry?" she demands.

In a few minutes, they are happily sipping hot chocolate together, planning the rest of their day. It is a small insult, a little murder of the spirit, the kind dealt by parents to children hundreds of times a day, balanced out, if the kid is lucky, by hugs and kisses and kindness.

The next morning, just down the street at Poor Richard's, a reminder that just as we deliver these small, unintentional blows to our kids, children deal them back in spades.

A young woman, a single mother, waits for her daughter to arrive for breakfast with a friend and the friend's mother, with whom the girl has spent the night before. The mother is visibly excited, eager to see her girl. But when the group arrives, the daughter, dressed in a bright crocheted poncho, hides behind her friend's mother and ignores her own mom.

"Good mooorniiing," her mother chirps hopefully from a nearby table and the little girl averts her eyes to the wall. The mother is crushed. "Do I deserve a greeting like that?" she says to nobody in particular.

The mother stares toward her daughter, her eyes desperate and inquiring, and the little girl casually slips her a glance then walks away. The mother stands up and walks out of the restaurant to collect herself.

"I don't deserve a greeting like that," she mutters again to no one in particular.

A few minutes later, she joins her daughter and her friends at a table for breakfast. Within seconds, the little girl encircles her mother's legs with her arms, laying her cheek across her lap. The mother melts and smiles. All is well.

It is a minor blow, a little murder of the spirit that is quickly healed. But the prick of this one and all the others they will deliver to one another over the years won't completely disappear. As they grow and separate, the accumulation of lap hugs and good night kisses, threats and warnings, intentional and unintentional snubs, hurt and forgiveness will form them both. The dance will go on -- a warm twirl in a mother's arms turns to a solo leap and pirouette. A boy grows into a man, a mother into a woman. What each will remember is the other one there, always, for better and for worse.

-- Kathryn@csindy.com

  • Little murders

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