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The Saddest Chapstick Story You Will Ever Read

On Thursday evening, Josh bought the ChickieNob her first cherry chapstick.  She had been coveting one for a while and he was at the grocery store, so he picked one up to surprise her.  Needless to say, she instantly fell in love with her lip balm.  So much so that when I took her brother to his guitar lesson, she brought it along just to hold it in her hand because she didn’t want to leave it back in the house.

And then she visited the school of chapstick hardknocks.

She did what ever single person has done at some point in her life, that quintessential moment of childhood when you absentmindedly (or in some cases purposefully) twist the bottom gear until the chapstick is up as high as it will go.  For a few moments, she marveled at the red brick of waxy lip balm.  And then she was taught the lesson every child learns the hard way: that twisting the gear to its limit brings about instant chapstick death.

At dinner, Josh had been telling me about a David Grossman book, To the End of the Land, where a mother drops off her child at base camp for army service.  Terrified that in allowing her son to be in the army she is literally offering him up for sacrifice, and fearing that she will one day receive the dreaded knock on the door by the army telling her that he is dead, she leaves her house so she can never receive that knock.  She spends the book walking through Israel, engaged in a game of magical thinking.  If she never receives the message, the death can’t occur.

That’s what I was thinking about as I watched the ChickieNob fall apart only a few hours after that dinner conversation, feeling for the first time that deep weight of regret; that wish that you could have made a different choice, that you could rewind time and change one small decision so the future won’t happen.  Right now, it’s a chapstick, and one day it will be something slightly bigger and then slightly bigger and finally bigger still, and with each moment that we’re emotionally forced to drink from that well of regret, we choke on the knowledge that there was something small we could have done.  The ChickieNob could have left the chapstick on her side table and it would still be whole.  The mother in the book could have kept driving past base camp, moved from the country, kept her son safe.

Of course, we never know these things in the moment.  We only know them in retrospect.  Which is why retrospect is such a bitch.  Sometimes it seems cruel that our brains retain the memory of how we got to the place where we’re at.  That it’s our tendency as humans to walk ourselves backwards through each moment to consider all the tiny twists and turns.  By which I mean the twist of a road.  The turn of a chapstick.

After tuck in, the ChickieNob went into the bathroom to cry by herself, and Josh made me get her out and tell her the story I’m about to tell you.  So we sat in her rocking chair and I explained that my father once bought me a cherry chapstick, and I loved it because I thought it made my lips look red.  I wanted to be like Snow White or Alice in Wonderland and have pale skin and red lips so badly.  And while I couldn’t quite get the pale skin, the chapstick at least gave me the red lips.  I used it for a while, making the sharp edges become rounded until the top was a perfect dome.  And then I twisted the knob at the bottom just to see what would happen.  And of course it broke.  And I cried, hard, because when you’re a child, you never know when you’ll get another tube of chapstick, which is something adults forget.  We become so accustomed to knowing that we can pick up a new chapstick the next time we’re at the store that we forget how much children are dependent on us, how difficult it is not to know when you’ll get a new pack of gum or a fresh chapstick.

The ChickieNob took another few minutes to cry, and there was a part of me that hoped as I held her that this moment somehow acted as a vaccine against all the stupid decisions she’ll make in the future which will lead to regrets.  That somehow drinking from a deep well of regret over a broken chapstick will keep her from stepping on other small rocks in her path that will lead to future remorse.  That she’ll always use a condom.  She’ll never get in a car with someone drunk.  She’ll be late one day and miss a terrible accident; she’ll be early one day and meet the person she’s supposed to meet.

Afterwards, I explained how a chapstick and a deodorant container and a twistpop work, how the twisting mechanism — which is very similar to the gears she uses in Lego robots — is connected to a rod, which raises a platform, and how this method of propel-repel is actually one of the greatest inventions of all time.  In fact, it would make the perfect science fair project, since it would not only be fascinating to take apart the chapstick container and the deodorant stick and the twistpop and see the parts inside, but it might actually save her fellow students from the heartache she is feeling now.  She stopped crying and considered this.  She agreed that she would take the chapstick apart.  So I agreed to go to the store and buy her a new one.  Since she had obviously learned the lesson.

She went to bed with her heart a little less broken.  Almost as if I allowed time to rewind by agreeing to get her a new cherry chapstick.  Which maybe erases the most important lesson there was in all of this: that we usually can’t go back and change the present so it looks the way we want it to look.  That most moments in life are not as fixable and inexpensive as purchasing a new container of chapstick.  The man in the car crash can’t go back and switch lanes.  The woman who is raped can’t decide not to enter the house.  People who die can’t be revived.   And most of the time, we can’t know which one of our decisions is leading to that possible outcome until after the event occurs, after we mentally retrace all our steps.  And even if she’s cognizant of that lesson and retains it, there is very little we can do to temper the feelings that come with retrospect.

So I let that lesson go, in exchange for a science fair project and a new chapstick so she could go to sleep with a lighter heart.

25 comments

1 Tigger { 01.30.12 at 12:55 pm }

And my husband wonders why I have about a dozen chapsticks laying around the house – you just never know when one will break, or run out! I’ve had them break by being in my pocket or my purse and the bottom constantly getting jostled. :(

I’m actually glad she was able to learn this lesson at a relatively young age – she’s both old and young enough to actually learn the lesson!

2 Eggs In A Row { 01.30.12 at 1:30 pm }

Please, tell ChickieNob that she made the most common mistake ever, next to losing her ChapStick between the seats of her car. I actually have a ChapStick next to my bed that I USED ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM! It’s the most amazing thing in the world.

I remember begging my mom for Bonnie Bell LipSmackers…they had sparkles! That’s all a girl needs to feel beautiful, right?

3 Alicia { 01.30.12 at 2:16 pm }

I simply love this post. Thank you!

4 Maddy { 01.30.12 at 2:18 pm }

Great story and analogy for life lessons! And one we can all relate to…great mothering and fathering going on there, too!
Love,
Maddy

5 Jules { 01.30.12 at 2:57 pm }

I love this post! Retrospect IS such a bitch. But thanks to retrospect I finally figured out to buy 3 chapsticks and keep them in all the places I typically apply the stuff (desk, car, bedroom endtable) so I’d not lose them anymore. :)

6 JustHeather { 01.30.12 at 3:10 pm }

Chapstick is an important part of life! Like Egss in a Row, it is amazing to manage to use a chapstick all the way to the bottom! And Bonnie Bell LipSmakers are my all time favorite. I buy as many as I can when I’m in the US and bring them back with me (unfortunately, plain vanilla is hard to find!).

7 Mo { 01.30.12 at 3:48 pm }

Wow. That was beautifully written Mel. Thanks for sharing the story.

8 HereWeGoAJen { 01.30.12 at 4:18 pm }

I think you did teach her a wonderful lesson. That sometimes mistakes can be fixed. Sometimes you just need to ask the right person for help. And sometimes, problems can feel giant but are really easy to fix and not worth worrying about.

9 Eve { 01.30.12 at 4:44 pm }

It’s so hard to be a kid. I wouldn’t go back for anything…not anything. I read the term ” psychological immunity” for the first time just today…which is to say that we have to let our kids feel the little hurts in life in order to immune-up for the big ones. But, oh if we could only shield them altogether. Lovely post, Mel.

10 Denver Laura { 01.30.12 at 5:53 pm }

As long as the chapstick didn’t fall on the ground or you don’t have issues with doing this if it had, as long as you twist the tube all the way to the bottom, you can melt the chapstick and pour it back in. I’ve had several melt in my car and it just goes back to the original shape. Google it if you don’t believe me.

Cherry is my favorite too.

11 It Is What It Is { 01.30.12 at 6:09 pm }

You are such a prolific and poignant story teller and an undoubtedly gifted surveyor of life the way you are able to make connections between benign and profound events.

Given the myriad defining moments in my life (beginning with my adoption and continuing through the childhood death of my brother, my struggle with IF, the finding of my birth mother), I often wonder how a change to any minute detail might have completely changed the outcome. So much, in fact, do I think this way, that even when I am running late and something delays me further I turn it over to the universe that perhaps I am not meant to either leave the house or be on the street or whatever because something that I am unaware of is happening (or going to happen).

I do not live my life with regret and I now understand that every twist, bump, and curve ball have led me to the moment I am living exactly as it should have so there isn’t necessarily something I’d chose to do over (do again, yes, but not do over).

Learning whatever lesson life is teaching is paramount to living an examined life and will serve her well (whether she gets a replacement Chapstick or not).

12 smiling scar { 01.30.12 at 6:57 pm }

lovely.. so well put.. and a great last thing to read tonight as I go to bed with the peace of letting go of the regrets of the day:)

13 a { 01.30.12 at 7:48 pm }

Second worst chapstick mistake: turning the thing all the way up while the cap is still on and smooshing it all into the cap.

I love how you turn these incidents into life lessons. We’re so much more pragmatic around here – it’s mistake made, here’s the cause, you’re fine, let’s move on. Of course, we’re not quite at the science project point yet, so maybe the lessons will get a little longer as time passes.

14 loribeth { 01.30.12 at 8:11 pm }

I can relate, dear Chickienob. Travelling at Christmastime, I put all my “gels & liquids” into a plastic baggie in my purse that I could easiily pull out & show security — including The World’s Most Expensive Lip Balm — an $18 (!!) tube of Vaseline-type stuff (but better than Vaseline) by Murad.

Would you believe my baggie developed a hole in it? I took the baggie out of my purse & put into the plastic bin as we went through security at the airport, en route home. But when I went to pick it up again after it went through the X-ray machine, everything went flying. And although I got down on my knees on the floor, & recovered the tube of lipstick & bottle of Purell that had in been in the baggie, I could not see my tube of lip balm anywhere. :( I finally had to move along — there was a lineup behind us, dh was in a bad mood, etc., & it was “just” a tube of lip balm, right? I didn’t tell him how much it cost. ; )

Of course, it was practically brand new & still 3/4 full. And of course, when I went to Sephora after Christmas, they didn’t have any in stock any more, and I haven’t been able to find it online either.

Great post, Mel. I’m so glad that this was one life lesson that could easily be made better with another trip to the drugstore.

15 Kristin { 01.30.12 at 8:58 pm }

Wow, such a beautiful post inspired but such a small, everyday item. Lesson well taught, Mel.

16 Emily { 01.31.12 at 3:02 am }

You absolutely blow me away with your amazing posts about life lessons from the simplest things. Beautiful.

17 Steadfast Warrior { 01.31.12 at 6:33 am }

Thank you for this post! Now in the “terrible twos”, I’ve been finding myself wanting to shield and protect my little girl from the silly and stupid little things that she does that often result in tears. My husband has to remind me that she needs to go through these things so she can learn. This I know, but oh how hard it is to step back and let her explore her world with the reckless abandon and not try and be overprotective. I’m not going to let her run out onto the street, but maybe sliding off the couch and using the cushion as a slide is okay, even if it means she might bump her face, or bite her tongue. At least those tears Mama can brush away.

18 edenland { 01.31.12 at 7:21 am }

This is an exquisite blog post. I love how you see the world.

I dreamt about the ChickieNob last week. She was playing with the Wolvog and she looked up at me. I said, “ChickieNob?” And she totally knew her internet name and smiled.

Hope I didn’t just completely freak you out. XXX

19 Stinky { 01.31.12 at 3:31 pm }

Love this post, and the comments that go with it. Yeah I reckon thats the reason they quite often have 2 tubes for sale in a packet, because one is never quite enough. Never realised there was so many women hooked on the Crackstick – I have about 10 tubes in various pockets and household locations, and half the time, do you think I can find even one?
Love the way you tied this in to life and its trajectory too – clever!

20 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.01.12 at 10:45 am }

Must you break open my heart with each post?

I want to buy yet another tube of chapstick for Tessa and hope she pops it out just so that I can have the same conversation with her.

21 Kathleen { 02.01.12 at 4:05 pm }

The smell of cherry chapstick still reminds me of being a little girl – ah, nostalgia. What a sweet post.

22 Roccie { 02.03.12 at 2:23 pm }

Good Momma. Science from chapstick.

23 Jessica @FoundtheMarbles { 02.06.12 at 12:10 pm }

This post gave me a knot in my stomach for all the times I (figuratively) made the Chapstick mistake. You are so right. Restrospect really is a bitch. :)

24 Kathy { 02.17.12 at 5:56 pm }

Finally returning to comment on this post (Lori’s Very Important Posts mention sparked my memory) and joining the chorus of all those who are amazed at how you managed to teach your children and all of us such profound lessons in the midst of everyday experience and disappointments.

This part really resonated with me:

“Sometimes it seems cruel that our brains retain the memory of how we got to the place where we’re at. That it’s our tendency as humans to walk ourselves backwards through each moment to consider all the tiny twists and turns. ”

When you talked about those moments that can makes such a huge impact in our lives, thought we typically don’t know it at the time, I always think of that movie “Sliding Doors.” Have you seen it? The main character misses her train in one scenario and catches it in the other and we get to see how both play out. It’s fascinating.

Likewise and not nearly as well done, Grey’s Anatomy (not sure if you watch it), did an episode recently called “What If” that showed an alternate reality for the characters if one particular character’s mother had essentially been a better mother (though she still wasn’t great in the new reality).

Thank you for this post — for your wisdom as a mother and as a friend.

25 Exa { 12.10.13 at 6:13 pm }

I just want to thank you for posting that picture, new tubes of cherry chapstick don’t tell you how to open it so I had to search google images for pictures. Yours popped up with “twist to open”. AHA!

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