Always Real, Makes Me Sigh

Flying Bricks

A few weeks ago Sean and I went to the local science and history museum — not so much in a quest for science or history, but more in a quest for an air-conditioned change of scenery. By big city standards, the museum is really kind of a rinky dink place, but we like our dink on the rinky side, so it suits us just fine.

The main attraction (for us) is not the Imax Theater or the exhibits, but the free children’s play space in the basement where they have a miniature grocery store that the wee ones enjoy looting. There is also a fishing boat, water table, telephones, cars and that kind of thing – a little pretend town. Sean really digs that kind of thing. I kind of do too.

In the midst of all that kiddy goodness, there is a little open frame house that is stocked with foam bricks. Sean and some other kids his size were busy in a cooperative effort to stack the bricks in the windows and open spaces when along comes a boy in a wheelchair. He is pale and thin. He is as bald as a baby bird. It is obvious to me that he is a cancer patient. Sean doesn’t notice that he is bald or in a wheel chair or that there is anything unusual about him at all.

The boy leans out of his wheel chair and picks up a few of the foam bricks off the floor and flings them through the window of the house, accurately toppling the bricks that the other children had so carefully arranged.

The bricks tumble into a heap inside the house. Sean thinks this is funny. He cackles loudly and then lobs a brick back at the boy in the wheelchair and then resumes frantically laying brick again before the big bad wolf shows up. 

The boy pulls himself out of his chair, dragging a colostomy bag behind him. For some reason it is the sight of the colostomy bag that pitches my stomach into my throat. My heart swells and throbs with sympathy for the boy and his parents and every sick child in the universe.  Vinegary tasting fear waters up in my mouth — it could just as easily be my boy in that wheelchair.

I watch this wisp of a boy struggle out of his chair and then park himself on the floor in a pile of foam bricks outside the house. Delicate toothpick arms launch brick after brick up into the frame house, clearly in an effort to destroy what the other children are building.

Sean still thinks this is funny. Normally he would come to me crying and whining and complaining of the injustice of it all. But today he just giggles and occasionally throws a brick or two back at the boy. It’s a curious phenomenon.

As I watch the children in the house furiously trying to keep pace with the work of restoration, my amusement veers sharply left towards frustration. He is being obnoxious and I find it puzzling. I don’t realize I’m watching him a little too intently.

I’m jarred away from a morose and morbid thought when I’m bonked on the head with a flying brick. I turn my attention from the boy to the source of the brick. My boy is leaning out the window and laughing at me. He is the source of the brick. He is the source of my joy. My heart swells again, but for a different reason.

The flying brick has given me a moment of clarity. I return my gaze to the bald headed boy. It makes sense. If your life were falling down around you, wouldn’t you want to tear everything down too — if for no other reason than just to taste a tiny bit of control? My sympathy towards the boy in the wheel chair melts into a puddle of admiration. And I can’t explain it.

Eventually, the kids grow tired of building and run away to other things.  Sean and I move on to other distractions as well.  Later, I see that the boy has pulled himself up into the house.  He looks so small and alone. I wonder if that is how he feels.  It’s how I feel.

That day, the world continued to spin and spiral along it’s ancient path in the flurry and spray of cosmic chaos, oblivious if not indifferent to pain and injustice and flying bricks.  And I can’t explain that either.

27 thoughts on “Flying Bricks

  1. Ouch. That hurts my heart. Kids just shouldn’t get cancer. It’s wrong. It’s one of the things that makes me question. I think your assessment of the situation is probably pretty accurate. Poor kid.

  2. That is too true, of children with no control over anything in their lives. Be it a medical, physical, or emotional issue. I hope that he enjoyed the museum, and left with a bit more hope for the future.

    And I truly love how other kids can completely miss such obvious physical differences as wheelchairs and paleness, and just play together.

  3. Once again, you have a way of taking one observation and putting into words, beautifully. You realized what takes some doctors and nurses years to do, and some never even do. Don’t we all just want a little control over things we seem to have no control over? My heart aches for that little boy. And, bravo to Sean for just seeing another child wanting to play, and not a sickly, weak, and different one bent on destroying his creation. Precious!

  4. You are a gifted writer, AM. You are able to find and convey the joy and the tragedy all at once – and you honored a little boy with a colostomy bag today. Thank you for that. I’ll not soon forget him.

  5. My little brothers went through this very thing. I couldn’t understand why they were so incredibly controlling–refusing to let me carry ANYTHING when I was pregnant, insisting on holding my arm when I walked, correcting each other’s misbehavior, etc. My mom was going crazy.

    Finally, we realized that they had absolutely no control over any of the things that really mattered–they couldn’t plan on being able to do sports or camps because my mother might have to go to the hospital for weeks at a time with the Red-Headed brother, and as for the Red-Headed brother, he couldn’t even plan on having a functioning kidney or being able to get out of bed at night. Trying to make each other behave and insisting that I not carry anything when I was pregnant was about the only thing they COULD control, and control it they did!

    I’m glad that you had that insight for that boy. When people with physical handicaps act in unusual or irritating ways, they really need compassion and understanding from others. Thanks.

  6. but for the grace of God, it could be any of our kids!
    thank you for sharing your insights…..you’re spot on, i think!
    i’ll be remembering this little fella, and his family, in my prayers today.

  7. I used to take my kids to that area of the museum and I know exactly the kind of kid-on-kid dynamics that take place. I also know that sometimes sick kids are allowed to act badly BECAUSE of their sickness and it is confusing for the rest of us. Where was his mother? Or father? There is compassion abounding for this child…to be sure…but it is developmentally/socially unhealthy (and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know) for a chronically ill child to feel as though he is not required to follow the golden rule. That sounds like a confusing day at the museum.

  8. Wordgirl, I’ve been thinking about your comment a lot today and it occurs to me that maybe that was the only way he could participate in the play? That maybe what I read as destructive behaviour was something else? I don’t know. I know I have thought of him a number of times since that day.

  9. I had a similar experience at a chick-fil-a recently that I blogged about. It hurts and yet it makes me feel blessed to have healthy children.

  10. I’m coming out of lurking to say I really loved your insight into this warrior child’s motivation. I think you are right on target.

    I try to imagine what would be important to myself if I were seriously confronted with my own mortality. Would I try to find control in whatever way I possibly could? Most likely, yes. Why should I expect any less from a child?

    I think your boy is wonderful.

  11. That’s a complicated situation, for sure. I think the boy in the wheelchair obviously wanted to feel he could somehow control the situation, but maybe in a sense of just wanting to participate and knowing that had he chosen a more conventional means of doing it, he might have been rejected by the others.

    From what you say of Sean’s reaction, I don’t think he would’ve rejected this boy, but others might have: children can be very forgiving and also very cruel. My heart goes out to that poor child, and I think it’s a shame he didn’t pick up on Sean just wanting to have a little fun with him. But I fully understand that he is a little boy dealing with adult issues, and frankly, where *were* his parents?

  12. That story just breaks my heart. I think you’re spot on, that little boy no doubt needs an outlet for his anger at the injustice of his world, and wants to control something. And the only way of interacting was to be on the outside tossing things in – even if that was destructive. What really gets me is how easy it is for all the other kids to move on, and how he’s left there, alone, unable to follow. Ack.

    So how long do you work on these pieces before you post them? They are so wonderfully complete and evocative. You really are a talented writer!

  13. Makes me feel like crying for all the children who have pain in their lives. I knew I could never be a pediatric nurse, but I was called out of maternity one night to sit with a little girl who had fallen through the ceiling from the attic. She broke a leg and had to have surgery late in the evening. By the time she came from Recovery, not one member of her family was there to sit with her in the pain filled, scary night. I held her hand most of the night and knew the reason I couldn’t be a peds nurse. It was the feeling of ineffectual sympathy that wells up in your heart and your eyes, thereby rendering you helpless to make a difference in a child’s life. I make a much better Grandma. Great writing, AM!

  14. Don’t you just hate it when your smacked in the head with a block. I had one of those just the other day. Sometimes it just is what you need for the day/week…ect

  15. Sounds like the grace of God was abundant that day. Maybe it was a rare trip out of bed, or a hospital for that boy. And instead of complaining, your little Sean was interacting with him, without questioning — without pointing (so hard for little ones!). What if that was just what he needed that day? To have something normal? It blows me away how God will use my 4 year old to teach me a lesson, or to build me up — thank you for sharing that experience.

  16. A long time ago I worked as a clinical Social Worker for a pediatric oncology office as part of my hospital job. The children were incredibly brave, insightful and mostly happy. They shared so much with me and gave so much of themselves to the whole staff. Many went on to have healthy lives while some did not make it.
    To this day it brings tears to my eyes.

  17. I can just picture this in my mind – seven years ago I was the mommy of a bald, skinny little boy in a wheelchair. Btw,I now think bald kids with no eyebrows are beautiful ;o) We are going to the same museum in the next few weeks, so maybe we’ll get to meet Mr. Destructo too!

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