“Okay! Each and everyone of you get out here. Now!” I shouted at my four, grammar school- age children, hiding in their bedrooms. One by one they timidly filed out and sat on the dilapidated, stained and thread bare family room couch to face their mother’s wrath. “Who scratched my coffee table?” I yelled, frustrated that another piece of furniture bit the dust at the hands of a “Haugh child.”
“Not me,” Michelle announced defensively. “I’ve been in my room studying all this time. It must have been Timmy!”
They sat in their numerical order, oldest to youngest, hands perfectly folded in their laps. My precocious young teenager, Michelle, crossed her right leg over the left, flipped a long golden curl away from her face and dabbed at the freshly applied clear lip gloss. Angelic looking eleven-year-old Jenni comfortably sat back with a smug look on her freckled face and nine-year-old Lauren, with the face of a pixie, picked at the mud caked on the front of her shirt. From left to right, the girls began to turn their head towards their brother. An expression of horror materialized on his sweet and innocent six-year-old face, as he mouthed “what?”
“Not me,” said Jenni confidently, turning back with a huge smile. “I just came home from softball practice. It had to be Timmy!”
Feeling the heat of every female eye burning holes on his first grade body, Timmy pulled his little knees into his stomach, lowered his blonde, curly head and mimicked the appearance of a “rolly polly” bug hiding from the world.
“Not me,” cried Lauren proudly (likely because it was true for once). “I’ve been on the roof the whole time. But, I’m sure it was Timmy!”
Now, my youngest child, whose body was in a tight ball, began to sob. “It wasn’t me, I swear! Why do these girls pick on me all the time?” Peeking up from the ragged holes on the knees of his worn-out jeans, he stuttered, “It’s not fair!”
“Well, until one of you fesses up, you are all going to your rooms.”
“Thanks, Tim,” the girls all muttered in unison as they walked down the hallway.
Raising children can be an overwhelming task for any mother. Not only do you want them to be respectful of other people (and their things), but to also be true to their word and own their actions. As I stood at my kitchen window, I wondered how and if “I failed” as a mother. The panic raced through my mind, and I had yet to let go of the fact that our barely new dark mahogany coffee table would need replacing. Then, from out of nowhere, two young arms enfolded my legs, and a remorseful voice whispered, “I’m sorry mommy. It was me.”
I looked down to see a bowed blonde head. Burrowing his runny nose deep into the back of my knees, he muttered, “I just couldn’t help myself. I was writing with my new pen set and the next thing I knew, I was writing on the table. I’m sure the devil made me do it!”
Turning to look at my penitent baby, I scooped my little man up in my arms and reminded him, “haven’t I always told you I get more upset over a lie than the action?”
I often think back to those times where I insisted the truth above all else from my kids. Fortunately, my ranting and raving paid off. I have four incredibly honest and moral adult children. A couple of years ago, I realized that I am the one who needs to listen to my own words.
On a dreary December evening, in 2007, while beginning the arduous journey of discovering my life through memoir, I found that I’d actually been lying to myself with certain aspects of my early childhood. Like a tall glass of ice water that was thrown in my face, I was faced with the fact that what I was feverishly writing down was not the entire truth. Just as with everything else in this world, there were two sides to my story.
I grew up in house full of noise, male hormones, athletics and highly intelligent people that had no problem expressing their points of view. They were strong, confident and the house seemed to revolve around everyone – but me. These experiences became the perfect excuse for all my insecurities, lack of self-esteem and solitary life style.
Here lies the real truth. While pouring over these memories of my younger days, I wanted to place blame on everyone but me for what I perceived as childhood inadequacies. I wanted to believe that I never had friends over because it was too much work for my mom. Being the “good girl,” I didn’t want to burden her with more work. The fact is, I didn’t like having girl friends over because they didn’t play the way I did. I had a certain order to my room and how my dolls should be touched and dressed. Each baby or Barbie doll had certain clothes just for them, never to be mixed and matched. Just one wardrobe malfunction on the part of my guest threw me into a tizzy. I wanted to believe that I was always sweet and kind to everyone. Instead, I remembered I was bossy, controlling and could be a real pain.
While my brothers participated in one sport after another, I stayed home. I was the thoughtful one and wanted to give my mom a break from shuffling another kid to their activity. No, the fact was I was the lazy child. Taking on a new activity, meeting strange kids and trying to be nice was way too much work for me. I preferred to get my athletic life in playing casual games on the neighborhood streets with my brothers and their friends. That was easy. I knew my place and besides, girls were too whiney when things didn’t go right.
And when it came to not “having a voice,” that lacking right to be heard, of course there were times I wanted someone to listen, but those times were actually extremely rare. I didn’t concern myself with deep thought or opinions. That also was too laborious for, what my older brother liked to refer to, my little “pea brain.” I preferred to live in “la-la land” and favored fantasy over reality. To be completely fair, my parents encouraged me to explore life and gave me plenty of opportunities to build up my confidence. I choose not to take them.
The most difficult truth to accept came, when I understood I was also to blame in the disintegration of my twenty-two year marriage. I’ve always felt when a man has a mid-life crisis and leaves his wife and children for a younger woman that they’re just selfish individuals who only think of their own desires and to hell with everyone else. Maybe if I had been more attentive to my husband and a little less to the children, perhaps he wouldn’t have become bored with his wife and homelife.
Being honest, truly honest, about ourselves – our abilities, our worth and potential, is what my mother called “a work in progress.” As she lay in that hospital bed, day after day near the end, she continued her personal journey of evaluating and re-evaluating her years. “You know, honey, when you get to the place as a human being where you are no longer evolving, growing and there no more truths to discover – then your work is done here on earth and you have lived a rich life.”
“But it’s so hard sometimes to do that,” I said, holding her frail arthritic hand.
“Yes, but it’s the hard things that make life real.”
There are so many gifts we can bestow upon ourselves, but one of the richest is self- awareness. Sometimes truth is hard to swallow and like my son experienced that day with the coffee table, there have been realities I didn’t want to accept. I’ve been sure the devil must have been involved with many of my worst decisions.
I’m glad to say that I did grow out of my slothful youth in high school and decided life was worth experiencing. “Yes” is far more exciting than “No.”
After my mother passed away, I learned how important girlfriends are (whiney or not). I trusted my mom with all my secrets, but it was time to allow the wonderful women in my life the same gift. It’s important that we don’t bottle ourselves up, like an expensive bottle of brandy put on a shelf for that one special day. We all know tomorrow is not promised. All we have is now. And through motherhood, I learned that my way is not always the right way. There are numerous ways to play or tackle anything. I’m also thrilled that I discovered the joys of debate, opposing views, deep contemplation and opinion (although my kids may differ – now that I’ve found my voice, they claim I talk too much).
I challenge you to take a look at your own life. Have you been honest with yourself all these years or have you been blaming something or someone else for inadequacies? As adults we have a duty to be forthright, both to ourselves and to those who look up to us. We live in a world that seems to thrive on lies. We complain how corrupt everything is from sports to politics and we want change. Perhaps the world will never change unless the changes begin at home. Let’s start a revolution and dig into our soul for our truths.