I had just been married to my second ex - the absentee father of my two little ones still at home - and his father took the three older ones shopping. RUC#1 would have been... hold on while I do the math... about 8, placing Peanut in the 7 age category, and Peaches was 5.
The brandy new "Grandpa" came back from shopping overly impressed by Peaches' choice. He explained he had taken them to a store, and he told them all to go find something they wanted and he would purchase it for them. (They didn't know it was a test of their character - the first of many.)
I cannot remember what the older two picked, as they must not have picked 'the correct' things... but Peaches was hailed as 'the unselfish' one as she picked a child's umbrella. Grandpa tried to talk her into something less practical; more hedonistic (I guess), but Peaches stuck to her desire to have the small, 'Hello Kitty' umbrella. Grandpa left the store, seemingly impressed and continued to talk of the incident until his death about three years later (unrelated).
My children learned a hard lesson that day - a lesson I don't deem as a true or fair one, but a lesson in humility all the same:
Every episode in their lives from that day forward would be judged and labeled by that family - by every member of that family - for the rest of their lives.
Choosing something functional wasn't Peaches' plan. Impressing her new Grandpa wasn't even in the cards, but she drew the correct one and was labeled for life as THEE (only) 'unselfish child' of mine for all time - fit to be a 'true' Linhart. (I never passed that test - BTW)
I learned a lesson that day as well. I learned the real differences in Love - A parent's love, which is unconditional... and the fake "I approve of you as long as you act and do as I approve" love - which is what we all lived with for the past 15+ years.
Of all the experiences I've had in my life and shared with my kids, I wish I could have foreseen the effect of ex's 'approval love' on my children's lives. I wish I could have nipped it in the bud and instead taught him the true meaning of love.
Until I met his family, I never knew every episode in life; every choice you make; every word you say is a test to your character. I never knew that as a child choosing something off the shelf spoke directly to your worth.
Frailty, mistakes, learning, bad choices, redemption, forgiveness, humanity - all words inaccessible, and actions unforgivable by the ex and his family.
I didn't know most people were born perfect. Someday, I'll take Knickerless to the store and let him pick something off the shelves. The more hedonistic and useless, the better... and I will never make him feel bad about his choices.
I didn't give the little ones their umbrellas this morning. In fact, they rarely use them except to play. A little rain never hurt anyone.
The truth is I can't look at an umbrella without feeling a pang of shame and regret.