The phone rang Sunday morning, and I asked Fred to check the caller ID. It’s Grandma, he said, looking at me. I told him I will call her back later in the day when I felt better. Without batting an eye he set the phone down, still ringing, and went back to what he was doing.
The thing is, I haven’t told my mother about what happened to my leg, and having just come out of surgery, I was too uncomfortable at that point to have pulled off a normal conversation.
It had been a no brainer for me to just keep this from her when I was in a cast; I figured, it’s temporary, and I am going to heal. Then when I learned I needed to have surgery, I was no longer so sure about keeping this mum, but at that point I’d already gotten in too deep…
It is quite possible, in the complex world that I inhabit with my mother, for me to be simultaneously intimate and dishonest with her. And then I remember reading somewhere recently that something like 92% of all teenagers lie to their parents about something, at some time. It got me thinking about why we lie and when we lie, and to whom we do it.
Last spring I was out of town to take care of my mother after her own surgery. Max and Fred had returned home earlier, and I called one night to check in.
“So what are you doing?” I asked my 8 year old.
“We’re, uh, what? [apparently off line to Dad]. Uh, we’re at, at China Kingdom.”
“What are you eating?”
“Your favorite fish dish?”
I started to grow impatient. Then I heard Fred’s little hand cover the mouthpiece as he hissed not softly enough, “Daddy! She’s asking me what we’re eating!”
“Fred! What is going on?! What are you eating??”
“Uh…crust…” I could see him cowering on the other line.
“You’re eating crust…at China Kingdom??”
And so I put 2 and 2 together and figured out they were at Chuck E. Cheese eating that horrible pizza. For dinner.
And so we all laughed and thought, isn’t that cute, ha ha, let me put this on Facebook. Until it dawned on me that it’s actually not funny to lie to Mom.
And why did they lie? Because they know how I get about fast food, and Chuck E. Cheese. I know pizza (of course) isn’t poison and Chuck E. Cheese isn’t a drug house. But I get it – if you’re not doing anything bad, why rattle Mom when you don’t need to?
I still consider myself close to my mom. Our weekly phone calls are always over an hour long. I share a lot, but I’ve also learned to keep away from her information that may excessively worry her. Like so many mothers – like myself – she finds her children’s pains so difficult to bear. When something happens to me my stress is doubled as I feel not only my pain but the pain that she feels. She’s tried hard to shield me from hardship, and on my last trip home she once even tried to carry my bags for me. We’ve always conflicted because I get insulted by her overprotectiveness. I ask her why she can’t see strength in me; she gets upset that I can’t see how she loves me.
The biggest lie I have ever had to keep from her was Max’s past. When it became clear that we were going to get married, I was suddenly tormented as to how or if or when I was ever going to tell her that Max had been married before and already had a child. She was coming from a very conservative culture and generation, and she would not understand what divorce meant or what it would mean for me to marry someone who had been divorced.
But keeping something so huge from her about her future son-in-law was more than I could bear. As many people do (I’d come to realize), I went to my father first, because it was easier. The way I interpreted love, my father loves me but sees strength and competence in me, and he has never seen me as an extension of himself. His calm centered me and he advised me on how to break the news to my mom.
Though I was right to tell my mother, it was the single most painful experience of my life. In her shock and fear of the unknown, she told me to call off the wedding. I was as outraged at her small-mindedness as I was at myself for having failed to make her happy.
It’s been over ten years now, and my mother’s come to ease up a bit on her worrying, especially seeing how I had thrived overseas on my own for nearly a decade, and now understanding how strong my marriage is. However, I can tell she remains vigilant about whether or not I’m being well cared for by Max. And I still dread the moments when she detects hoarseness in my voice or a lingering cough. I have imagined how I might tell her about my leg, but ultimately the idea of having to string together the words “I” and “broke” and “can’t walk” and “surgery” in a long distance phone call to her is too much. I might be underestimating her, but I worry that it will be too much for her…or maybe for me.
The last two weeks with my broken leg have been up and down. I have so far only allowed myself to cry in front of Max. Sunday, two days post-op, was one of those more down times. After leaving a message on our landline, my mother tried my cell phone. I turned and looked at it for a long while as “Mom and Dad” pulsated on the screen. I blinked away tears before deciding, finally, to let the phone continue to ring.