Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Dignity of Small Children

I was a sensitive kid. I cried almost every day. As a teen it continued sporadically until I was fifteen. Fifteen was when I cut the habit. Crying in geography class in grade ten, tears of injustice, because you felt the teacher was unfair to a friend was the warning bell. At twelve it occurred to me that maybe this was all too much and I asked my mom, "Mom, am I over-sensitive ?" I have no idea where I got that line. It may have been from reading the Ann Landers letters along with the comic strips in the newspaper. In any case, a sensitive kid will perceive affronts to his dignity everywhere. The red face streaming with tears and snot, contorted into masks of high drama notwithstanding.
    Two such affronts come to mind. One involves fashion and the other, obliquely, food.
    Receiving gifts as a child can be a complicated affair, especially when it comes to clothing. I didn't especially like getting gifts of clothes in the first place. Clothing is mandatory, I should get clothes anyway. Don't waste a gift opportunity on it, unless it's related to something I love. That was my thinking. An aunt, a kind lady, gave me a shirt that was a total affront to my dignity. It was a white sweatshirt of sorts, made out of a horrible scratchy synthetic. Of course I tried it on, 'try it on, at least,' was Moms mantra. She knew this wouldn't end well. It was rigid, it was uncomfortable. Comfort wouldn't have saved it anyway. The print on the front was of a skunk holding his nose with the tag line 'I'm a little stinker'. Tears, shrieks, gulping sobs, the whole bit. I was emphatically not a little stinker. Who does this to a kid ? I'm a little caveman, ok. I'm a little allosaurus, fine. I'm a little flying saucer, you get the idea.
    The second affront to my dignity was a new lunchbox my mom picked out and, shudder to think, thought I would like. Raggedy Ann and Andy. I had no relation to those dolls before this event came crashing into my life. Internet says this came out in 1973. If so I must have been about 5, maybe 6 if mom picked out last years model on sale. I don't care if it can fetch 65 bucks on Ebay now. Of course it would be the height of cool if I cracked it out at some potluck full of banana bread. But at 5 I could not bring this to school. I howled with despair, unable to articulate how this was so wrong. At 5 I had already seen King Kong. I was having night terrors for gods sake. Step it up, rag dolls were not it. I don't recall how this was resolved. Taped paper on the sides ? A brown paper bag ? I made it to school with some lunch that day, my pride tested but still mostly intact.
    I still cry every so often, to keep my heart well oiled. Affronts to my dignity are now mostly self-directed too.