My two closest friends happen to be married to men whose names rhyme. It’s a weird coincidence that I didn’t really even notice until this morning in the car, when my 10-year-old son Levi, for no apparent reason, said, “It’s too bad you aren’t still married to Uncle Larry, mom. Because then there’d be Cathy and Barry, Helen and Jerry, and Debra and Larry. Wouldn’t that be funny?”
Besides the shocking randomness of this observation, I was struck with the realization that my 6-year-old son, also in the car, had never been told that his mother had in fact been married prior to wedding his father and that this might come as a rather profound shock to him. I paused for a moment to regroup.
“Thank you for sharing that,” I said with a forced sort of politeness. Then I addressed my youngest and as simply and directly as possible said, “Eli, did you know that when mommy lived in Chicago, many many years ago, mommy was actually married to Uncle Larry?” I suddenly understood why calling my ex “uncle” was probably as bad an idea as my current hubbie had argued.
“Do you remember Uncle Larry, honey?” I pushed onward.
“No,” he said, “Not really.”
Not sure how to proceed, I prayed for a sign from the parenting gods. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him. But he clearly heard what his brother had said. They say kids know everything, especially the stuff you avoid telling them. I had no choice. I had to say something. Of course I didn’t tell the older one until he was at least 8, and I only gave up the info when a gal pal innocently inquired about my first husband during an outing with our kids at Starbucks.
“Is Uncle Larry the chef guy, mommy?” my littlest inquired.
“Yes sweetie, he is. So you remember him?”
“Kind of, I guess.”
“You were married to him?”
“Just for a short time. When I was very, very young.”
“Do I have any brothers or sisters?”
“No, honey. Just your big brother, Levi.”
“Has Uncle Larry ever been on ‘Chopped?’ ”
“I don’t think so, love.”
“If he was, do you think he would win?”
“Hmmm…that’s a good question. I’m not sure. He’s a really great chef though. He might.”
“Mom, will you ever marry anybody else?”
“No, sweetheart. I’m done marrying people. Daddy’s the one I was looking for and now that I found him, I’m never going to marry anyone else.”
“Okay. Mom, can we stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for a cinnamon raisin twist on the way to school?”
I chuckled. “Yes, sweetie, we can.”
And with that our conversation came to a close. Was I right to share the info at this still tender young age? I’m not certain. But once the cat was out of the proverbial bag, I felt like I had no choice in the matter.
The good news is, there are no more secrets to burden my motherly soul. I don’t have any LSD-laced skeletons in my closet or arrest records I need to expunge. I am pretty much what I appear to be. I think that’s good for kids. It can’t be easy to learn that your cherished mother was once a toothless carnie or a handsomely paid exotic dancer. Luckily, I only had to tarnish my maternal image with a failed first marriage. In the scheme of things, that’s not so terrible.
But how do you explain to your kids the mistakes and failures of your past? Do you sugar-coat them? Exaggerate them to scare your kids into submission? Brush them off as merely the foolishness of youth? It’s hard to know what’s right.
Personally, I believe that telling your kids the truth is essential. Okay, not including conversations about recreational drug usage, alcohol, premarital sex or cigarettes. But as far as almost everything else goes, honesty is…usually the best policy.