I have done the unthinkable. I mean it, the quintessential parental misstep, the apex of maternal idiocy. I have committed the equivalent of allowing someone to take nude photos of myself for “artistic purposes,” all the while naively believing that these pornographic pictures would never come back to haunt me. That’s how stupid I am.
“Oh, come on,” you’re thinking. “What could you have done that’s so very terrible and foolhardy?” I wrote a book. A very, very revealing book. I wrote it when my eldest son was a baby. I wrote it with my husband. I wrote it so that one day, long after we had departed this earthly realm, my children would know who we were, how we lived and all the intricate details of our lives they’d neglected to ask us about when we were alive. I wrote it to be known. Well, be careful what you wish for.
So last night I’m sitting in my office/art studio working on a new piece. I’d just inadvertently allowed my wood-burning tool to sear through a paint bottle and was busily wiping up a pool of purple paint. It was nearly bedtime for my kids and I was a bit frazzled when Levi, my 13 year old son, came bounding into the room. “Can I hang out with you for a bit?” He asked merrily. “Of course, honey,” I smiled. “I’m just a little stressed at this moment.”
He then proceeded to talk and swivel in my desk chair, telling me about his day, his upcoming tests, the geography bee. Then he began to rummage through the books on my book shelf. “What’s this book, mom?” He innocently quarried. “I don’t know, sweetie, I’m kind of preoccupied right now.” I didn’t even look up from my paint puddle.
“All About Me?” He read. I could have said something then. Something smart and maternal like, “That sounds familiar,” or “Let me see that.” But nooooooo, I finished mopping up my mess and then got back to work on my creation. In truth, I was barely listening as he happily revealed that the book was something his father and I had written back in 2001 when he was a baby. “That’s nice,” I casually ignored him. I’m not proud of this. But sometimes I tune people out. Doesn’t everyone? Especially one’s children? They do talk incessantly. And sometimes you just need a break to do whatever you need to do.
“I love this book,” he declared gleefully. “Mom, you were a radio talk-show host? And I never knew dad’s favorite color was blue.” Apparently we had purchased a basically blank journal with questions on each page about ourselves. The idea of “All About Me,” was to create a deeply personal parental memoir to be delivered to one’s children at some point during those children’s adult lives. Clearly the point was NOT to divulge the kind of intimate details contained in those pages to a 13 year old child who was not at all prepared to take in the shocking and horrific information his idiotic parents took the time to actually write down on the pages of this tome.
Before I knew it, Levi was giggling maniacally. “Oh my gosh,” he kept saying. “Oh my gosh!” By the third “oh my gosh,” i deduced that something was up and unplugged my wood-burning tool. “What is going on?” I inquired with what I believed to be a great deal of gravity and parental authority. “Mom,” he looked at me as if he’d never seen me before. “You tried smoking pot? And dad…dad…”
“Levi, give me that book,” I commanded, suddenly filled with a rush of memory about the contents of the journal. “Give it to me!”
“No way,” he defied. “This stuff is amazing!” He then raced out of the room, holding the book tightly and shouting out shameful tidbits about our past that we had idiotically penned into the pages of this incriminating treatise. I chased after him like a famished lion following an evasive zebra. “Come back here!” I shouted. Now I too was laughing maniacally.
One of the most difficult parenting moments is that one where you realize that your child is bigger, stronger and faster than you are. But luckily I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. I managed to grab his ankle as he rounded a corner and pulled hard, bringing him down onto the couch. The book flew out of his grasp and into my own. We were both exhausted and giddy. I summoned every bit of parental poise I had within.
“Levi,” I said, “This book is a very private book. None of what you read is anything that can be shared with anyone outside this family. In addition, your father and I have made mistakes along our roads to adulthood. I guess we thought that someday, maybe 20 years from now, we might want to share some of our regrets and insights with you. We certainly did not expect to share this information with you right now. But since it’s happened, you need to know that people make mistakes, big mistakes. Life is about learning from mistakes and making better choices in the future.”
What else could I do? Pandora’s box had unexpectedly been blown wide open and there was no way to corral the contents and re-contain them in the carton. This was life and there were no “do-overs.”
“I understand, mom,” he answered, matching my seriousness. “So you’ll understand when I make those same mistakes…” “No!” I interrupted. “Just because we made certain mistakes does not give you license to make the same ones. We were stupid, many times. This book does not give you permission to do anything that you will later regret, and trust me, you will later regret much.”
I guess at this point I was crying and he sensed it was time to back off. “Okay mom,” he said, and then in a voice reminiscent of a younger version of himself, he asked “Will you put me to bed now?”
I happily tucked him in, said a prayer, and kissed him gently on his forehead. I probably should have gone and directly burned that stupid book. But I have to admit, it was kind of fascinating. There were things in there even I didn’t remember. Destroying it altogether seemed wrong, like trying to run from one’s past or pretend that reality hadn’t existed. So instead, I hid it, this time in a spot where no one will ever find it. In fact, I’ve already forgotten where I put it. It probably wont surface till the kids have moved out and we’re packing up the house to sell it and move to our smaller empty-nest abode.
My only hope is that when it does resurface it’s at a more opportune time, a time when my boys’ choices in life are less treacherous. When hormones have stopped raging and moral character is more keenly etched into my childrens’ psyches. But maybe that never happens. Maybe there is never a good time to step off the parental pedestal, to show your kids that you are human, that bad things do happen, and that everyone errs. As famous author and philosopher Sam Keen once said, “We come to love not by finding a perfect person but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” Well, you gotta hand it to me, I am definitely teaching my kids how to love.