He came out from school beaming, clutching his precious unicorn cupcake. “Mummy! Today is Kaili’s birthday! I have a cake.”
Of course, he wanted to eat it Right. Then. And. There. but I persuaded him to wait till we reached David’s school – “then you can eat it while we wait for kor kor.” Reluctantly, he agreed.
We were pretty early to get David, so I found us a stone table and bench and opened up the cupcake case. “Here, Daryl.”
Everything happened in a split second. One little arm reached out to get his cupcake, but missed the mark (or did I accidentally move my hand? I can’t remember.) and smoosh went the cream. His unicorn was now a flattened mess of rainbow cream…
I don’t know who was more stunned – him or me. One long second later, “M-m-m-mummyyyyyyyy!” His face crumpled up as the tears poured down his cheeks. In between sobs, “Mummy, I no more unicorn!”
Oh, the heart pain.
This was end-of-the-world, I-have-no-more-reason-to-live kind of crying. No kicking of feet or flinging himself on the ground, his usual style of tantrum-ing. This was pure, unadulterated, immense sadness and disappointment.
Even as my mouth threatened to burst out in laughter (because, how adorable was my little munchkin wailing like it was the end of the world over a cream unicorn), my heart ached for him, because I knew he had been trying so hard to be patient, and feeling so excited and proud of his precious cupcake.
And now it was smashed, and there was simply no way of fixing it.
“Mummy, I want another cupcake!”
But I couldn’t give him another one.
“Mummy, I TRIED!”
I know you did, my little sweetie-pie, but things just happened.
“Mummy, but now I can’t have a unicorn!”
That’s right. I’m sorry, Daryl. I’m sorry.
And he flung himself into my arms and dissolved into more sobs, while curious onlookers began to gather around. David and his friend came running up.
“Hi mummy! Why is didi crying?”
“He got a cupcake from Kaili in school, but we accidentally smashed it, so now he can’t see the unicorn anymore.”
David’s very frank and practical friend, L: “Oh, that’s ok. That’s just the cream on top. You can still eat the cake below. See, it’s not smashed.” And she bounded off to play.
David: “Didi, are you ok? But if you don’t want the cupcake, can I eat it?” And he bounced off before his distraught brother could reply.
Daryl, finally tearing himself away from me, looked up at me tearfully, woefully.
“Daryl, you want to eat your cupcake now? You can still eat it, just that you don’t have the unicorn on top anymore. But the cream is still there, and it’s sweet and yummy.”
Five minutes later, with half the cupcake in his tummy (Mummy, I’m full), he ran off with a smile on his face to join his brother and friends for a game of catch. End of story.
But it stayed with me, that experience, even though it’s now been over two weeks since. I don’t think I will ever forget that woebegone face, or the mixed bundle of feeling tickled and helpless. I think of how all three of us (David, L and myself) reacted to the incident, and it’s so revealing about our thought processes in that moment.
I was being all empathic and consoling, trying to soothe his shattered heart and wipe his tears. L was completely matter-of-fact and bottom-line driven – it was still a perfectly edible and hence useful cake, nothing to waste tears on. And David was a combination of us both – worried for his brother’s heart, but also spying an opportunity for him to gain something sweet. 😉
At the end of the day, perhaps all three responses are important. Empathy, truth, and gratitude.
Life sometimes doesn’t go the way we planned. Even though we waited – even though we tried. Instead of focusing on the things we missed or the mistakes we made, we can be thankful for the things we do have. Instead of brushing over our hurt disappointment, or swinging to the other extreme and just wallowing in self pity, we can get in touch with our feelings of loss, accept reality and move on.
Life brings us old lessons in new ways, every day. In our case, it came to us in a unicorn cupcake.