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.