Mother would fry his eyeballs if she learned he’d used his trip to Europe to delve into her nephew’s affairs. The fact he’d done it to protect her from a potential fraud at worst, and a down-on-his-luck sob-story from an estranged relative seeking a handout at best, would hold no water with her.
The only thing she would care about—the only thing Eleanor May Douglas had ever cared about—was honesty. Specifically, his. And though she might forgive him the breach of trust, she’d never forget it.
The above excerpt is from My Dear One, and straight from my mother’s playbook.
Mom didn’t have a lot of expectations for my brother and I—actually, she did, but they were no different than that of most of my friends’ parents and related to homework, chores, and bedtime—but honesty? That was the one expectation she was most ferocious about. The one rule she never relaxed. Case in point:
When I was twelve, my best friend and I skipped our last class of the day—P.E.—and walked the five miles home arriving at my usual bus stop at the same time as the bus. Certain we’d fooled everyone, we strolled into my home. My mom greeted us with a chipper, “How was school today?”
I shrugged. “Fine.” And friend and I headed towards the kitchen, toast dripping with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, on our minds.
“Nothing unusual happened?”
Now, that should have been my clue. But how many grade-eight twelve-year-olds truly have a clue? Not this one. I offered another shrug.
“How was P.E.?”
Again, another ripe opportunity for me to realize she was on to us. She KNEW. Again, I failed to grasp the enormous clue blazing like a sole neon sign parked in middle of a desert in the dead of night.
“Don’t you lie to me!” The backhand landed in concert with the shout, rocking my head full of rocks enough to allow a glimmer of light in. Understanding dawned, and hand clasped to my cheek, I gaped at her in horror, as my insides withered.
She nodded, her face infused with the fury of a mother who’d spent the last two hours after my P.E. teacher had called to advise her I’d missed class—and was not on school grounds—born of the terror a mother feels when her daughter—and daughter’s friend—vanish from school at the height of the Clifford Olson spree.
“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t find out?”
Of course, I didn’t speak. I only shook my head, and ducked, as she swung the belt. That’s when my friend lit out for home, and I took my lickin’, fully aware I’d earned it.
I’d lied to her.
Lying wasn’t allowed.
Neither was skipping school.
And I’d done both. In the space of two hours.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon licking my wounds in my room. When my dad came home, I was called to the sofa. They sat across from me, and with my mother still boiling steam from her ears, my dad gently asked me if I had any idea the pain—and terror—I’d caused my mom? Biting my lip, I shook my head.
Fact was, I’d not planned for her to find out. The fact she had—and then got mad—wasn’t my plan. Or my fault. Really, what was the big deal? I made it home alive at the time I always got home from school, having walked five freaking miles to do it. If that didn’t fulfil the Physical in P.E., what did?
Of course, I didn’t say any of that. I just sat there, scared and, honestly, annoyed and resentful at my mother’s reaction. She was making a big deal out of nothing. If my teacher hadn’t called, she’d never have known, and everything would have been fine.
Sage man my dad is, he sensed my thoughts, even if I didn’t express them, because he seized on that.
“Do you think your mom’s over-reacting?”
Uh, yeah. Duh.
Of course, I only shrugged.
“Well,” he said. “She’s not. And do you know why, she’s not?”
He nodded, and drew a deep breath. “What if you hadn’t come home?”
What? Why wouldn’t I come home? I was hungry. And thirsty. And my friend and I had planned to take the horses out, after our snack.
My dad leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his gaze steady. “Did it occur to you, you could have been hit by a car? Picked up by a stranger who’d like nothing more than to hurt you, and that because no one—not your teacher, not your mom, not another person but you and [friend]—knew where you were, we wouldn’t have known where to even begin to look for you? Do you have any idea what that would have done to us, to find you dead in a ditch, or worse, to never find you, because the wrong person came along when you and your friend were alone on the side of the road?”
I found a clue in the tears filling my mom’s eyes, and blotchy appearance of her face.
“Uh…” My chest squeezed as true understanding dawned. She was scared.
Not mad. Terrified. Not hating me. Hating the thought of losing me. And I’d done that. With my ignorance. And disrespect for her expectation that I keep her apprised of my whereabouts, and obey her No Lying rule—stay at school when it was in session. I’d done that. Hurt her. Deeply. And like a Grizzly sow wounded by her cub’s blind ignorance, she’d lashed out. Not to hurt me. To scare me. To scare me enough—so I feared her enough—that I’d never, ever, do something so potentially catastrophically foolish, again.
I didn’t. Skip class again (I did other reckless teenage stuff, but that’s another post). And of course, my mom forgave me. She always did. Always has, no matter how stupid—or cruel—my behaviour towards her. But she never forgot. And that was the other thing my dad helped me understand that day (and I paraphrase)…
“Deb,” he said quietly. “Your mom wants to trust you. I want to trust you. We both want to give you the freedom to do the things you like to do, but we need to know we can trust you. Trust you to be smart. Trust you to be honest. It takes years to build trust, and less than a minute to lose it. And once it’s gone…” He shrugged, and shook his head. “Sometimes you don’t get it back. If you want us to believe we can trust you to do certain things, you have to be someone worth believing in, in all things, not just those things you want us to know about. All things. Even those things you think we won’t find out. Lie about one thing—and we do find out? You’ll lose our trust in everything.”
By then I was a sobbing mess. As was my mom. That discussion ended with huge hugs from both my parents, but it was my mom who held on the longest. She apologized for losing control, but not for her anger. Not for her upset. Not for caring.
Never for caring.
The next month’s grounding passed with excruciating slowness. And of course, at school, I made all the usual pre-teen murmurs of protest against my parents’ unfair penance for skipping one class. But I never forgot.
Lies have consequences. Least of all, the power to seriously harm, and lose the trust—and respect—of, those who would love us most.
From their errors and mistakes, the wise and good learn wisdom for the future. ~Plutarch