all our children (and the lies we tell them)

Between Ken & I there are four adult children.  Ken’s the more prolific one, bringing three messy, complicated lives to our relationship.  I only have the one messy, complicated child, probably because I intuitively knew that one would be all I could tolerate in my own messy, complicated life.

I often wonder what our children would think of us if they knew us as just people and not as their parents.  What would they think of us if they could see our lives as we’ve actually lived them and not through the colored lenses we hold over their eyes?

 For example, what if my child knew that once upon a time, mommy was thrown in jail for drug possession?  A long time ago, when the boy-child was still a boy, I decided that if the topic of drug use ever came up, I was going to lie my ass off.  No, of course  Mommy never did drugs.  Mommy was too cool to do drugs.  See how cool mommy is now?  You too can be as cool as her WITHOUT DRUGS.  What if he knew that I spent the latter part of my teen years and most of my twenties stoned?  Wouldn’t that have given him a license to do what I did?  Perhaps he would have justified it by using my relative adult successes as an excuse, but what if he failed where I succeeded?  No, I was not taking any chances on that.   Let me be clear: I lied like a dog.

What if our children knew about the Who Would You Fuck? game Ken & I play sometimes when we’re out in public?   Or the books of erotica I hide in the hatbox?  Or of the struggle we’ve had as a couple this past year which sent us into a spiraling nosedive?  The struggle that’s led us to redefining our relationship in very nontraditional terms?  Do they have any idea what’s gone on right under their noses?  I wonder how differently they would see us.

It’s not like our children don’t eventually discover the fallibility of us as parents.  I considered my father’s tall tales and exaggerations as gospel truth until I was an adult, when it dawned on me that he really could not have owned his own gas station when he was sixteen years old and still in high school.  To this day, I run smack into my father’s braggadocio in odd places – the car repair shop owner I recently spoke with wanted to know more about the car dealership my father used to own (untrue) – or the eye rolls I catch family members making when dad rips off another incredible story at holiday gatherings.  Daddy’s a natural storyteller and he’s usually the main character.  And while this certainly colors my perception of him, it’s a color that blends in well with the rest of the palette.  His stories are about successes he never actually had or dangers he’s really never encountered, not about his very real downfalls in life – those he has hidden from view.  Only through other people have I heard the true stories of business failure and emotional devastation, the hospitalization, the bottle of whiskey and the shotgun he had to be talked out of. 

He hides the bad stuff from his children.  We all do it in our never-ending quest to show them as much adult perfection as we can muster.  And we fail, sometimes miserably, to hide our very real imperfections which we are afraid will disappoint them and keep them from being the best person they can be.  Personally, I hope to keep the facade alive for awhile longer, because they need to feel, even as adults, that there is normalcy and continuity in their parents.  I want to believe they can look at us and see what’s possible – stability, normalcy, success, happiness – and not what’s sometimes lurking below the facade. 

None of our four kids has given us grandchildren yet, but we’ve reached that age when we’re ready for it.  How interesting it will be to watch our kids as parents, projecting their best selves onto them, imprinting them with their own stories of hard work and success, hiding the bad stuff as best they can, all in an effort to direct them down the path that will lead to happiness. 

It’s what we do as parents.


5 Responses to “all our children (and the lies we tell them)”

  1. 1 anthonynorth November 16, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Hey, OB, I’ve only just realised you’re back blogging. Good to see you. It looks like you’ve been through it – we all have times like that, and we damned well get through. It’s called surviving.
    As for parenthood, we do our best. No one, in the history of the world, has ever done more!

    Oh North, it’s good to see you here at the Observation Deck! Yes, parenting is just a matter of doing the best we can without screwing up too much. And we ‘damned well get through’, for sure.

  2. 2 venus00 November 16, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I think we instinctively know what we should and shouldn’t share with our children. Children need us to be their rocks even if we can’t completely live up to their ideals. I have shared the darker parts of my past with them when it’s appropriate but definitely don’t “over-share”.

    I totally thought Uncle Ed used to own a Car Dealership! 🙂

    Ha! We all did, sweetie. He’s like the guy in the The Big Fish movie. But we love him just the same.

  3. 3 Sorrow November 18, 2008 at 9:27 am

    It’s hard to hide the evidence of a miss spent youth, especially when I still haven’t managed to grow up.
    I, like you, look forward to seeing what fabrications my oldest manifests for his own children. He is the one who tries so hard to make the world black and white..

    I rub my little hands together in anticipation of what mine will come up with also!

  4. 4 prisonmike November 18, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    My grandfather worked like a dog as a plumber during the depression to put food on the familial table. He saved and scrimped and cheaped out at every opportunity to get just a little bit ahead.

    Only recently, listening to my father explain, did I realize that he was human just like we all are. Grandpa sent weekly cash to his parents because he felt sorry for them – often to the neglect of his own immediate family. My dad tells of the common practice of taking fried potato sandwiches to school for lunch because that’s all there was. Grandpa also made many poor decisions financially because he was guilted into it by needy family members.

    It’s like seeing a mountain from a distance. It looks huge and impressive and only when you come to the foot of it do you realize that there are stones at the base that were never there from a mile away. You examine the stones and you know they’re part of the mountain too, they just seem so different.

    People are people, whether they’re your parents or your kids. No one started out life as a parent. We all had to grow up. And growing up inevitably leaves stains and scars.

    Well said as usual, C. You need your own blog, ya know… I love the mountain analogy.
    That’s the thing about parenting – we just do the best we can, trying not to screw it up too much, and hoping they’ll do better than we did.

  5. 5 poseidonsmuse November 19, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    As I age, like the fine chunk of Cheddar that I am, I need to remind myself that everyone has their “secrets” – even that seemingly harmless granny, clad in gingham cotton, clapping along to “It’s a Small World Afterall”, has some enticing little secret that would rock the entire geriatric ward….

    Afterall…life is for the living and what the hell is “normal” anyways…

    Makes me wonder (but not too much for fear of finding out) what secrets my mother has. We all have ’em and sometimes they’re the things that great novels are made of.

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