It's the time of year when everyone's talking about being thankful. When it comes to my parents, there's so much I'm thankful for.
Most of all, though, I'm thankful for the time you told me "no."
Okay, in fairness, that's super vague because there were probably a million times I heard "no" in my childhood. But this specific no is one that sticks out vividly in my mind, even decades later. Perhaps it's because at the time, it was one of the most "traumatic" moments of my five-year-old life.
You were babysitting a girl who was the daughter of your friends and, thus, was one of my friends. She was a few years younger than me. My memory doesn't tell me what we were doing out and about. It starts with me standing beside the two of you as you pushed my younger friend in a cart in a toy aisle. I stood beside you as you talked. That's when my friend and I both saw it. My five-year-old eyes sparkled with delight at the beautiful endcap display.
There were tiny babies in bathtubs.
I'm sure if I saw it now, it would be laughable. But to my friend and me, they were amazing. Truly amazing. A mini, pocket-sized babydoll that came with her own bathtub. A clawfoot bathtub! You could put water in that bathtub! You could put the whole thing in your pocket or purse or wherever you wanted! It could probably fit in the Polly Pockets I had.
We needed it.
Grabbing hands reached for the endcap. Noticing our desire, the two of you chatted about something, but I was focused on the toy that just had to be mine.
And then Mom, you reached for them. My heart swelled with joy. I was thinking of names for the baby in the bathtub that would soon be mine.
You handed one baby in a bathtub to my friend, who squealed with delight from the cart. I reached for mine, waiting for you to hand it to me.
You shook your head, and my heart sank. This couldn't be happening. I asked for one. You looked at me, sighed, and said, "No." You promised I would get something else, though. You pushed the cart into the next aisle, and I felt tears welling.
I remembered what you said, though, about never being bratty. I didn't throw the tantrum I wanted to, but I stared with envy as my friend giggled and stared at the baby in the bathtub. Her baby in a bathtub.
In the next aisle, Dad reached for a book. I recognized the cover. It was my Learning To Read book with the silly dog cartoon on the cover. I'd mastered the most recent color of the book at the picnic table with you, so we needed the next book. You handed it to me, telling me I was getting that instead.
I stared at the book filled with work pages. I looked at my friend with the baby in the bathtub.
I felt cheated. I felt devastated. I was pouty, angry, and disappointed. We moved to the checkout, but the whole time, I kept thinking about how unfair it was.
I was so sad about the baby in the bathtub that I can still picture it to this day.
But you know what? I'm so glad you said no. I'm so glad I didn't add that cheap toy to my collection of useless toys that would later be thrown away.
What you gave me that day was so much more important. Looking back now as a twenty-nine-year-old English teacher, writer, and adult, I know without a doubt that choice you made probably wasn't easy. I know you would've bought me both things that day if you could have. But money was tight, and sacrifices sometimes had to be made.
And you decided to break my heart about the baby in the bathtub to get me something that would keep on giving for years to come... the gift of learning. The gift of education.
Over the years, I'd forget about the baby in the bathtub for a while. But I didn't forget the lessons I learned in that workbook. I didn't forget my letters or the words they formed. I didn't lose the passion for reading you helped me uncover that day.
I'm not a parent yet, but from what I've heard, it isn't easy. It's filled with choices and sacrifices. There are disappointments for both parents and children. You sometimes wonder if you are doing the right thing.
That day will forever be in my memory because it was a day I felt like life was so unfair....but that day, when you said no, you also said yes to a pathway that would lead me to where I am today.
Thank you for saying no to the baby in the bathtub... and yes to a love for words, reading, and writing that would last a lifetime.
Love you both.