Some years ago, my mom had an endoscopy, an undignified procedure in which tubes were stuck down her throat. I attended the festivities as both Uber driver and emotional support animal. My mom was much too tough at 87 to admit to needing either a driver or any help whatsoever—her generation has been identified as both tough and silent—as the following vignette will attest.
You should be coming out of the anesthesia about now, Mrs. Altshuler, the nurse said. Are you waking up?
I was never asleep, my mom replied.
The nurse’s eyeballs popped out of her head as she leapt into the air horrified. Inspecting my mom’s arm, the nurse ascertained that she had indeed missed the vein and that my mom had endured the indignities of the out-patient operation without the benefit of intravenous sedation. Doubtless the nurse felt bad about messing up. She may have also anticipated a lawsuit not knowing that my mother had made it to her ninth decade without ever having sued anyone.
I’m so sorry, Mrs. Altshuler, I can’t apologize enough, the nurse went on. And then pausing to reflect she added, didn’t the procedure hurt?
I thought it was supposed to hurt, my mom said.
Nowhere in these 600-something blogs have I advocated for harming our beloved children. I unequivocally do not recommend un-anesthetized medical procedures. The “pain for the sake of pain” lobby gets no contributions from this author. Just the same, our best parental intentions to the contrary, some experiences do in fact hurt. Never mind not getting a date for the prom, failing a driving test, or being rejected from a first-choice college. Just getting through the day is replete with inconveniences. Our fellow humans have a pronounced tendency to be brutally annoying. To say nothing of siblings. Studying can hurt, especially after the first several hours when the words in the organic chemistry textbook seem to vibrate and blur. Walking more than a few miles hurts. Camping hurts. Come to think of it, anything other than snuggling under a down comforter while attentive elves bring you fresh sushi can hurt. Dr. Johnson pointed out that “life is much to be endured, little to be enjoyed” and Sam knew nothing about cable news, miserable on the best days.
So how do we help our beloved children practice for the inevitable hurts to come? Not by suggesting that there won’t be any. The Ws are all the more precious because of the Ls and absent your finding the effective time-machine left over from the H.G. Well movie and signing up your child to be a member of the 1927 N. Y. Yankees* there are bound to be any number of disappointments of varying intensity.
I would also advise against the the-world-is-so-unfair-you-deserve-better approach although I find nothing wrong with a modest dose of poor-baby. Empathy is fine. Feel it, show it. But communicating to a child that her life is in ruins and the universe is out to get her just because she was rejected from her first-choice college—an institution that admits one qualified applicant out of 20–is a bit over the top given that your daughter still has access to a smart phone and antibiotics for which medieval rulers in Europe would have given half their kingdoms and yes this sentence is going on longer than it should, but we are on the subject of suffering after all.
I also recommend taking the kids camping. Not that there’s anything to be said for pooping in the woods like your basic, uneducated woodland creature, but a few experiences of “but did you die?” and “no, I guess there isn’t any cell service out here” can go a long way when subsequent disappointments come galumphing by. A “can do” attitude is more likely to develop as a result of children who actually both can and do.
When the going gets tough, it’s nice to have a supportive parent around. But suggesting that no nurse ever will miss a vein or that every experience will lead to unqualified, pleasant, easy success sets kids up not only to fail but also to feel especially miserable when they do.
* The Bronx Bombers won 110 games that year. The Seattle Mariners won 116 games 64 years later, but the season was longer then.