Can You Cure a Broken Heart?

I have enjoyed watching the neighbor boy get excited about learning to repair things and garden.  One afternoon he spotted a chalkboard I made out of a kitchen cabinet door for my grandchildren. He had so many questions on how one makes a chalkboard I had to pull out my can of paint and explain it to him visually.

The idea that he could have his own chalkboard stayed with him and weeks later he showed up to ask if I could help him repair his dresser and “make chalkboards” on the drawer fronts.  His mother gave her consent and we spent the next two days repairing the dresser, painting the drawers and then he decided he wanted to choose a paint from my stash to paint the rest of the dresser.   When that was done I pulled out my boxes of knobs and let him select new knobs for the drawers to replace the bulky pulls that would have been in the way of creating his works of art. You would have thought I was Santa Claus from his excitement over those boxes of knobs. I wish I still had those pictures to share with you again.

You should have seen him sanding down those drawers. This was his dresser so my only job after assisting in the repairs was to answer his questions and provide the supplies. This was the first job he took on himself.  I still smile remembering how he got his brother to help him carefully carry his finished dresser across the street and up the stairs to his bedroom, grinning all the way.

I heard every time he came looking for work over the winter how much fun he was having with his chalkboard drawers and his mother informed me he not only drew on the drawers but practiced his math on them as well.

Unfortunately, there’s a sad ending to this story.

With his mom in earshot he informed me his mother gave a way his dresser.  She tried to say it broke but he insisted it didn’t. Finally, she admitted that the family she gave the dresser to didn’t have a dresser for their son and her son had another one he could use.  In the end her child continued to lament the loss of his dresser he worked so hard on and his mother’s only response was…..are you ready?  “Get over it, you didn’t need it.”

It was so hard for me to sit there and say nothing but I managed. That’s why I’m venting to you. 🙂

There are two sides to this story. First the boy’s side. He worked hard to restore this dresser and personalize it. He had that pride that can only come from a sense of accomplishing a task you didn’t know you could do.  To him his mother didn’t respect the pride he got from having that dresser and took away a cherished object.

Then there is the mother’s side. She wanted to help another boy to have something he needed. I know what at least one other dresser in her sons’ (the youngest two share a room) looks like and the one she gave away was the nicest of the two, I can only imagine the third dresser could use some love.  She didn’t want to give away the junky dressers because the junky pieces would reflect badly on her, in her view. I know I would feel horrible giving away something that needed serious work. This woman is sweet, she would give you the shirt off her back but I also see that when she gives it’s because she has little self esteem and hopes to earn friendship and respect.

Here’s the thing. If the mother had ever had the opportunity to make something for herself she would understand her son’s pain at the loss of his dresser and never would have considered giving it away without his consent.

I see a chasm opening up between mother and child.  By my teaching her son these skills, I feel I’ve set him up to be different from other members of his family. There are no words a nine year old will have that can explain the loss he feels over what many would figure is just another piece of furniture.

I do have a plan. 🙂

Since I know there is still one dresser in his bedroom that is “his” when the garden is planted and the deck finished (a few things here need to take priority) I will offer to let him bring over his remaining dresser and give it a makeover.  I better check that can of chalkboard paint first. 🙂

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35 thoughts on “Can You Cure a Broken Heart?

  1. sigh…Lois… my heart broke.

    I am sorry to say, I do not think you should offer to help/allow him to redo another dresser. I am having trouble finding the words to explain my “felling”/”instinct” on this, but, I think it also will not end well.

    you wrote..”different from other members of his family”…Yes, he is/is becoming so. I think the Mother, whether she knows/understands this or not/ knows understands her feelings or not, is Jealous.

    If the Mother had simply wanted to help a child who had no dresser, and you state “. This woman is sweet, she would give you the shirt off her back”…If she had simply wanted to do a good deed, and she obviously is comfortable with you, she would have asked you to either help her redo one of the junky ones, or asked you to keep an eye out for something suitable. I think she (again whether she knows/admits it or not) is not only jealous of her son (his new confidence/skills), she is likely also jealous of you, Jealous that you have helped to develop and nurture knowledge in her son. (and she has not).

    I am not sure what to suggest, and maybe I am out to lunch.

    How old is the boy? Does she have any way at all to feel she has accomplishments?

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    1. My heart is broke as well. You have no idea how hard it was not to take his side, which is what he wanted that afternoon. No she is not jealous but I can see how you would come to that conclusion. The boy she gave it to is twelve so I’m not sure he will enjoy the chalkboard as much, if at all. The boy and his family had nothing when they moved in next door to her. The family was sleeping on the floor, didn’t even have blankets. That’s just how she is. When she sees someone has less than she does she tries to fill a need and make friends, if she’s not already friends with the person. I have just given her the rest of the flooring I didn’t need and told her I’d help her lay it in her entryway. I think I’ll walk her through it but let her do the job herself now and see if that makes a difference.

      You asked if she had any way to feel she has accomplishments and I’d have to say no. She’s a sweet person but sees the world as against her, which is why she feels she needs to do something to hold on to or make friends. I have yet to see her fix something on her own or make anything. She raves about those who can yet at the same time their talents make her feel worse about herself.

      I will redo another dresser for her son, even if I have to find one and invite him to my yard to make it over then gift it to him, but it will be after I talk to his mother and impress upon her that she can’t get rid of it without his consent. She values our friendship, which is why she tried to say the dresser broke when her son told me about it, she didn’t want to make me angry.

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  2. This is a difficult situation. Is there anything you can get the mother involved with that will give her a sense of accomplishment? Planting some tomatoes? Fixing the dresser? Mother and son/sons could work together?
    Good luck.

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    1. I sure hope so. I was going to help her lay a new floor in her entry way but now I think I will just help with direction but have her do all the work. She wants strawberries in a corner of the front along the small strip dividing the house from the street so yes, maybe I can get her to do that with her son instead of helping as I told her I would. That’s a great idea to have her help with the next dresser I think that’s a better idea than the one I had of just her son working on it.

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      1. Lois, yes, I think too, it is a good idea to have Mom help/do the work on the next dresser. Maybe her and the son, I don’t know. But for sure. If there was a way she could be involved with finding another, maybe that would be good too. I just don’t know. But, you have so much experience with these folks I am thinking it will come to you how to handle it so it ends as best as possible..

        I will most certainly keep you/this situation in my mind and send you all “good vibes”..

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        1. I’m going to give it my best attempt to get her to participate with him on the next dresser but I don’t know if she will be interested in “doing work”. I feel I have to do something for him though and that includes bridging the gap of experience I inadvertently caused.

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          1. I’m also playing around with ideas to personalize the dresser with his name making it harder for her to get rid of. 🙂

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  3. Oh, that is so sad!!!!! He would’ve had such pride in it and I think this mother has been incredibly mean – no matter how kind she is to others she has been very lacking in caring for the feelings of her own child. Yes, I would also offer to do another for the child too, just out of empathy for him but, wow….!

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    1. Wendy, I feel giving him the opportunity to make over another dresser for himself is the least I can do. I know I did the right thing by staying out of that discussion at the time but I can’t help but think he was looking to me to help him get his point across to his mother and I just sat there not wanting to undermine her parental role. So by giving him another opportunity I will be letting him know I did hear him.

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  4. Oh, my heart aches for that little boy. When I was a kid I really, REALLY wanted a waterbed. My mother thought it was silly, but my dad (who didn’t live with us) liked the idea and decided to build one for me. It was specially customized with drawers under the bed frame – but since it was going to be placed against the wall, there would be no way to access the drawers on the far side. So my dad built them so that you could pull the drawers on the side that you could reach all the way out, and then reach back and pull the back drawers all the way through – so you could use them for storage, like out of season clothes or whatever. It was really special to me both because I really wanted it, and because it was such a personal gift from my father – who I didn’t really get to spend much time with as a kid. To top it off, my dad wrote a poem to me in magic marker on the inside of the frame. It was one of the sweetest things he ever did for me, and one of the few times I felt like I had a “real dad.”

    Anyhow, when I went away to college, my mother moved and she gave the bed away without telling me. Practically speaking, since my life was so unsettled at that point, I couldn’t have taken it with me anyhow, but the fact that she just did it without talking to me really hurt. And the worst part – I never got to copy down the poem, so it’s lost forever. Sigh.

    In the end the bed itself didn’t really matter, it was more just the reality that I was sort of invisible to her – and that my feelings just never weighed into the equation for her. It makes me so sad to think of that little boy in a similar situation. I hope you can find a way to mend his broken heart… but I fear like you said, the damage done in terms of the relationship between he and his mother will be harder to heal from.

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    1. EcoCatLady…
      My heart breaks again, to hear of this.
      I am sorry this happened to you.
      (I know I am an unknown stranger, but maybe it helps to hear another feels bad for this happening.)

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    2. Okay now my heart is broken for your loss and at the same time so impressed your father went to the trouble to build you a waterbed to fulfill your dream. To know a father even went to the time to add a poem inside the frame….wow you are really loved by him. I wonder if your father remembers the poem and could give you a copy or at least point you in the right direction? For a father to do that the poem I would think it would have had significant meaning to him. I guess you more than anyone else would understand my little neighbor and his feelings. I am struggling to understand how his mother could have given something away that he worked so hard on and that he enjoyed using. I’ve mentioned before that they have no yard, no real place to play, they have a few toys but if you know how easily children, especially boys, can turn boredom into fighting with each other then you might ask why she would have given away something that kept him occupied and eased the “I’m bored” antics.

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      1. The poem was one that he wrote for me… so maybe he still has a copy somewhere. The only part I remember was the end of the last line “… a pluperfect mess!” He was (ahem) referring to the state of my bedroom – let’s just say that neatness has never been my strong suit. Anyhow, I’ve thought about asking him about it, but… I dunno, my dad is sorta weird about sentimental things. He kinda freaks out if you do or say anything vaguely emotional – seriously, he never even hugs me – not sure what the deal is, but I long ago gave up trying to understand.

        Anyhow, it’s hard to imagine what was going on in the head of that boy’s mother. I can only guess that she’s so caught up in her own emotions and issues that she is blind to the feelings of her son. That was mostly the case with my mom… She did have a vindictive streak, but mostly I was just a big blank screen upon which she projected all of her own feelings etc. I mean, she did save some of my things for me, but mostly they were things that had meaning to her, not to me – report cards, papers I wrote for school, brochures from a vacation we took, art projects that I had lost interest in (mostly because she took them over as her projects – a common occurrence in my childhood) – it was all stuff that I never would have kept. Of course she tossed my high school year book, and my coin collection, and my prom dress, and some gifts given to me by my best childhood friend – she just saw that stuff as junk so I guess she assumed I did too. Not that I would have dragged it all around with me forever, but it just felt like such a violation.

        Anyhow, my hunch is that your neighbor is not only blind to her son’s feelings, but that she’s so over powered by her own that it’s all she can really see.

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        1. How sweet! I love how he referred to your “messiness” in such a funny way I’m sure you didn’t take as a complaint.

          As a parent I can honestly say that I would have thought my own children would have been more attached to certain items than they were. Luckily, wanting to keep clutter to a minimum and not having an excess amount of storage, I purchased two of those large Rubbermaid totes, well, large in those days, one for each boy that they could put things in they had outgrown and wanted to hold on to. If the tote was full and they wanted to add another item they had to eliminate something else. In the end, it was mostly toys with a few books tossed in there for balance. They have passed on these items to their children who are enjoying them today. Too bad you weren’t given the opportunity when you left home to select the items you wanted held for you.

          I feel there is a lot I don’t know about my neighbor and may never know.

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  5. I don’t have much to add to what has already been said about this poor boy, except that two of my children were adopted at 6 and 7 and had already been hurt in many ways by a mother like this. She also took away the nice things that were given the children by others to make their horrible life a teeny bit better. It made her feel “big” and important to give them to someone else and also created a debt she could call in in the form of alcohol, drugs,rides, etc. They have intense bitterness toward her and still remember the helplessness and hurt of losing their only toy or nice thing. And she told them the same thing, suck it up, get used to it, that’s life.
    My heart goes out to your young friend, and his mother also. She doesn’t realize what she is doing to him or their relationship and it is probably the same way she was treated as a child. My children are Hispanic; I’m wondering if your neighbor is also. It was explained to us as a common thing in that culture.

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    1. Cynthia, I never knew you adopted two of your children, they are very fortunate you found them but I imagine they brought a world of hurt with them that took a lot of love on your part to bridge. I try to see the good in everyone but your story makes me wonder now if I am misjudging the situation and there was really more behind the giving away of the dresser. No, his family is not Hispanic but I do know his mother grew up in a housing project where she formed friendships of many races and could have been influenced. I don’t know all this family’s story just bits and pieces but there are parent/child problems that go back a couple of generations. You’ve given me much to think about in how to handle making this up, fairly, for the little boy and at the same time make it harder for the mother to take the next piece from him.

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      1. Christy, I can see where you felt you needed to clarify but since I know we aren’t neighbors I knew what you meant. 🙂 Thank you for your support as I’ve been feeling really badly about what has happened here.

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  6. Lois, this just sticks in my mind…
    also, read your
    “I’m also playing around with ideas to personalize the dresser with his name making it harder for her to get rid of”

    can I suggest that is a good idea, but not if it is painted…too easy to paint over/color over with a sharpie, if she does turn out mean and re gifts it too.

    can I suggest you teach him how to engrave his name (deeply) into the wood, in several places (and also on mirror edge if has wood frame)? In fact, if it has a mirror, he could do some “glass etching” on the mirror, and put his name there too.

    the engraved name words could be colored in for contrast…
    maybe best if it could be first and last names engraved.

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    1. Good ideas to ponder, thanks. I have time yet to make a decision on how this will be done as I have things that take priority here at home first and I need to spot a dresser to make over.

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  7. Oh Lois.. I so feel for the boy.. Nothing worse than creating something with so much enthusiasm and love and then to lose it like that.. Even if the circumstances were genuine caring for some other boy.. Mums first consideration should have been her sons.. And she knew how much it had also encouraged his homework and drawing skills.. I am hoping there is enough paint left in that chalkboard paint can 🙂

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    1. Sue, as an artist I know you can feel the pain and loss this child feels. I feel for the mother who lack that knowledge because she’s never been given the chance, or maybe didn’t take the chance, to see what she could be good at. I keep asking myself how it must feel to have never experiences a sense of accomplishment and pride in ones creativity or skill set.

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  8. I wrote this once already and it went into the ether’s. I have to agree with Anon’s first comment. The mother is jealous and you can’t fix a broken mind and heart. He’s had a heartbreak, the first of many by his family but this is his path to work through. You showed him how to change his life and I’m sure that at the first opportunity, it will happen, or not. His choice. She will continue to punish him by taking things away. I’ve seen that kind of action by a parent and it’s sad. I would let go of it and bring my focus back home. You’ve given him good tools for his lifetime. Hopefully, he will use them later.

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    1. Sorry, Marlene. I checked my spam folder but your first comment didn’t go there so not sure what happened. I do hope you are wrong about this mother I have seen too many children hurt by parents (my own included thanks to heartless fathers) that I would rather not have to witness it regularly again on any level. I may not have to go out of my way to do anything for this child as he shows now shyness in coming right out and asking me to help him or asking to use my tools when he wants to give it a go himself. For good or bad I have witnessed how families pass down behaviors from one generation to the next I can only hope being here will make a difference for just one, maybe this boy, to break the patterns that have been passed down in his family.

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      1. Lois, I notice you wrote
        “I may not have to go out of my way to do anything for this child as he shows now shyness in coming right out and asking me to help him or asking to use my tools when he wants to give it a go himself”…
        very sad. I am sorry you are in this situation.
        If he is now “having that sort of behaviour”, I would say it may not be the first time this has happened to him,
        and he is very afraid of it again.

        I have seen this kind of “behaviour” in families, although the ones I have seen have been older siblings towards younger, and it never seems to end. There is no easy answer. The only thing I have seen work (and again this is with siblings), is when the one it is being “done to”, can sort of “stand up for themselves” and say, take a hike, this is not going to go on. Not something a child can easily (or even) do towards a parent.

        I will just keep you and him in my thoughts, and hope for the best.

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        1. Sorry that was a typo it should have said he shows no shyness in coming…. He’s been like that pretty much since early last summer, as soon as he saw me with tools and wanted to help me so he could learn from me. I know I am very fortunate to be in the financial position I am in, that’s not to say I am in that class known as wealthy, but I have disposable income of a level other families do not and that combined with my knack for looking at an item others might see as trash and turn it into something useful has drawn this child to me. Take that old cabinet door that is now a chalkboard, he was mesmerized by it and had to know how this could be done then wanted his own chalkboard. I guess what I am saying is that between little things like a repurposed cabinet door and my knowledge using tools he sees me in much the same way we talk about keeping up with the Joneses. As long as what he wants is to learn, and is willing to put the work in to create what he wants, I am happy to teach him.

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          1. Thank God, Lois. Truly glad to hear this ….(the typo and his maintaining interest)..

            good to know.

            thanks for explaining.

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      2. We can hope. I tried to help my last husband’s children and gave with all my heart. It didn’t end well and they were the main reason the marriage ended even though it should never have begun. 🙂 Lessons learned.

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        1. Ah, now that makes sense as to where you formed your opinion on this subject. I guess for me my empathy and desire to help him, and others, stems from no one being there to help me when I was little.

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