My mom once said she wished she had spent less time cleaning when my brother, sister and I were growing up and more time hanging out with us. Actually, I don’t know that she said hanging out, but that’s the general idea. I turned her wish around a bit and told my friends who were embarrassed by their lack of meticulous housekeeping that a messy home is the sign of a good mom.
Often their response would be, “tell my husband that.” Oh well. Tell him to pitch in.
But really, I get what my mom was saying. Our home was always clean–save the kids’ rooms–but should that be what we remember most about growing up? I can’t say it’s my strongest memory, but I definitely would have benefited with a little more attention from my mom. And my dad, for that matter.
Still, every parent has regrets and every child–even an adult child–has his or her complaints. I’m leaving the rest alone. I am where I am, I love my parents and I’m too old to dwell on what should have been.
I can’t say I inherited my mom’s penchant for cleanliness. My home is sanitary and presentable, except for the storage room, which I’m still working on. It’s sanitary but hardly presentable. But my apartment is not as clean as my mom kept things. It could do with a little dusting right now. I don’t remember ever seeing dusty book shelves when I was growing up.
I have no excuse. I only have cats. So I guess I’m going to start working on this storage room again. And to those of you with kids–relax and enjoy your children. The rest will get done.
It’s at times entertaining to watch a pre-schooler try to lie their way out of a sticky situation. So endearing, in fact, parents may pretend to believe everything the little tall-tale-teller is saying, just to hear them say it. They’re so earnest and sincere.
Not my second grade teacher, though. Mrs. Smith didn’t take falsehoods from anybody, in particular her son, Tim. One day she told our class Tim had only lied to her once, back when he was three years old. She caught him, and he was so ashamed he never did it again.
Not one kid in our class bought that story. She stuck to her guns. Tim was as honest as the day was long.
A few weeks later this poor guy, now 19, showed up at our class to drop off car keys for his mom. He innocently walked into a room full of skeptical, disapproving seven-year-olds, having no idea of the tale we’d heard. In short order, his face was as red as his scruffy, shoulder-length hair. He didn’t look like a saint to us and we had no problem saying as much.
Maybe we weren’t being fair and he actually was that good. I can’t imagine any child NEVER lying to their parents, but I’m not sure what it said about us kids that we were so jaded about telling — and hearing — the truth.
I was visiting a friend last summer and as I approached the front door, a child about the age of her youngest daughter came running up to me. With hair cropped short, jeans and a team-logo sweatshirt, I assumed it was a little boy, probably a neighborhood friend. It wasn’t. It was her wild child five-year-old girl, who told me she’d cut off her shoulder-length hair the week before. All by herself.
I laughingly asked Pam about it, and she signaled me to come inside.
“That girl’s hair was cut short and straight across the back,” she said in a low, firm voice. “And there wasn’t one single scraggly piece I had to trim. No way she did it herself.”
Right at that moment one of Pam’s older daughters walked by. “We told you what happened!” this one said defensively.
“I know what you said,” she replied mildly, then turned to me and continued in the same low, yet clearly distinguishable to those eavesdropping, voice. “They’re not telling me the truth and it’s obvious what happened, but since no one was hurt, I just punished all of them for leaving the scissors out.” Older daughter walked away.
Pam looked at me and sighed. “I have no idea what happened and I can’t get them to budge on their story.”
No illusions on her part. I don’t think her girls are particularly dishonest or deceptive, in fact, I think they’re fairly transparent. Well, two are teenagers now, so let me revise that: for the most part I think they are, at the heart, trustworthy girls. One of whom probably cuts hair.
When I was young, I was always afraid what would happen to me if I was caught being wrong. That was how I saw it, by the way, being wrong, not doing something wrong. I became a pretty decent liar. I was clever, with a good imagination and even better memory. Fortunately, I got tired of it, physically, emotionally tired, and I stopped well before adulthood.
My parents were not abusive, so I can’t say what it was that caused that fear, probably a more subtle message they weren’t aware of and didn’t intend to send to their highly sensitive child. What could they have done differently? I don’t know.
I’ve said it before: parents, you have an impossible job, but you do it. Hang in there. Believe in your children. Believe in their overall character, not their occasional deeds. Know that lying is something any child is going to do, if not this day, the next, for his or her own reason. Deal with it, of course, but save up a few stories to laugh at when they have kids of their own.
Emergency vehicle sirens terrified my brother, two years my junior, throughout his childhood.
He’d run crying and hide in a closet, refusing the comfort offered by my confused mother. For years both suffered his pain in their own way.
All the while the guilty culprits, those who prompted and perhaps cultivated this fear, went on with their lives and for a good long time kind of forgot what they’d done.
You guessed it – I was one of the guilty. My sister, the middle child, was the other. We were mean at the age of four and five, although our round faces and wide eyes belied that fact. And hey, Santa ALWAYS showed up. So just how bad were we?
Well, you be the judge: It’s a sunny day. The three of us are playing in our yard with a few friends. A siren is heard in the distance, perhaps a fire truck, perhaps a squad car.
We amble over to our brother, age three. “Thommmmm,” we whisper. “They’re coming to get you. Those sirens? They’re going to take you away. We’ll never see you again.” Who knows how many times this happened, why we started or why we finally stopped.
As I write this, I’m mortified. That was really, really mean. After a short time, my brother forgot our threats, but clung to the fear, and never could tell our mom why he was afraid. Eventually (in our early twenties) we confessed to him what we’d done. I think he forgave us. By that time, there was likely a heap of other things to make him angrier.
My mom, however, not knowing the truth, held on to the pain of not being able to help her son with his greatest fear. We had no idea how difficult that had been for her, and it was another twenty years after our initial confession before she found out the truth. I’m not sure what she thought about it, and I have no desire to bring it up, not being particularly proud of it.
Surprisingly, I grew up to be nice to a fault. So parents, never fear, you’re not necessarily raising sociopaths. I don’t know how you do it, the constant pressure to bring your kids up right, and the pain when you think you’ve failed in one way or the other. There are always those facts we don’t have, and maybe never will have, so don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, your kids will do that for you.
And who knows just how much of it in reality is their fault anyway.
In case you’re wondering about my relationship with my brother today, it all worked out. Here’s a post I wrote about it a few months ago: sibling revelry