Her Bad Mother

Friday, April 18, 2008

Falling Out Of Trees

When I was about seven years old, I hurt another child. I'd like to say that I didn't mean to, that it was an accident, but it wasn't, not really.

It was the kind of thing that happens in an instant: there was a small group of us climbing trees in the woods behind our houses, and I was in a higher branch, and this girl grabbed for my hand to pull herself up to my branch and I just let my hand go slack so that her hand slipped away and she fell and she hit the ground and she cried. It wasn't very far, and she was fine, but still. I made her fall. And I meant to do it. I have no idea why. It was just momentary impulse of meanness, acted upon. And I'm still shamed by it.

The other day someone asked me whether there were any stories that I wouldn't share about Wonderbaby and I said, oh of course there are, blah blah blah, but in that instant another question occurred to me: are there any stories about me that I wouldn't share? And more specifically: are there any stories about me that I wouldn't share with Wonderbaby? And the little story that I told above is the one that came most immediately to mind.

That it was that story that came to mind gave me pause for thought. Why that story? There are all variety of stories from my childhood and youth and, well, every phase of my life, of which I am not proud. Stories that reveal me as selfish and self-absorbed and possessing unsound judgment and uncharitable and unpleasant and, in some moments, unkind. But those stories - the time when I was thirteen and stole a Twix bar, the time(s) that I snuck out my bedroom window to go to nightclubs, the time that I told my sister (untruthfully) that she was adopted, the many times that I have, in fact, had spare change and yet said that I didn't - I wouldn't be afraid to share with my child, assuming she were at an age to appreciate the nuances of the story as I would want to tell it. Which is to say, I wouldn't be afraid to use those stories as (as much as this term pains me) 'teaching' stories, as means of demonstrating that being good (whatever that means) doesn't mean being perfect, that human beings do let others down sometimes, that we let ourselves down sometimes, and that sometimes those are the greatest hurts of all, the little hurts that we inflict upon ourselves and others, even if we don't mean to, even if we only do those things because we want some things too badly or because we're too hurt or afraid or lost in our own miseries, big or small, to do the right thing.

(Even, yes, sex stories, assuming that she'd want to hear them - which, speaking as a daughter, I'd expect she wouldn't. But those stories - about good and bad choices, risks taken, risks averted - can be, I think, as important to open parent-child discussion as much as any other kind of story. Not until she's, like, married, though.)

But the story about the time that I just acted on a moment of meanness - of unbidden, unjustified, inexplicable meanness - that story, I don't know how spin didactically. There's no moral there; that is, none that I can explain to myself adequately enough that I would be able to explain it to my child. That everyone carries a little seed of meanness in their hearts? That children can be inexplicably cruel? That sometimes we do wrong things without even knowing why? These seem banal lessons, in the context of that little story. I was just mean for a moment. I still feel badly about it. Is the lesson that guilt and shame can follow an action forever? Ugh.

So I just don't want to share that story with her, ever.

The one other story that I don't want to share with her, that I don't want to have to share with her: this story. A story that contains no seed of meanness, but one that pains me - sometimes shames me, sometimes - nonetheless. The story about how she was not the first, about how my own mother's heart broke with mine in making a choice that I still regret to the very bottom of my soul and yet do not regret at all, the story that I still don't know how to tell to myself, a story the moral of which I still haven't sorted out, may never sort out. I will only tell her that story, someday - a very long someday away, never away, I hope - if I need to. If she needs me to. If it's something that she needs to hear from me, discuss with me, I'll share it. But I fervently hope that I never need to, that she never needs to hear that story, both for her sake and my own.

Because that story, like the other, defies my analytic and didactic skills. I don't know what lessons they contain, I don't even know what lessons I want them to contain. One has no explanation; the other beggars explanation. Why did I do it? A million reasons, and none at all. They are stories that are, in very different ways, inscrutable to me, the owner of the heart that made them actual. And so they hang there, in the tree, like the reddest of apples, waiting to be plucked or to fall, their taste, their toxicity, something that I can't control. Which makes them the most difficult stories - the most dangerous stories - for me, as a parent, to even consider telling.

Which makes them also, perhaps, the most important stories. Were I ever to be brave enough to pluck them.

*******

Friday Flashback prompt this week: What memory/story from your youth (or childhood) - if any - would you never share with your own children? Why? And if there's nothing from your history that you wouldn't have them know, why is that? (Note, as always, that you can play around with this - is there some story that you want them to know, but only when they're much older? Something you'll only share when/if they ask?) Already up: posts from IzzyMom, and Mamalogues...

25 Comments:

Blogger slouching mom said...

Wow, Bad. This post just did me in. So honest, thoughtful, true.

Thank you.

11:52 AM  
Blogger CP said...

Wow. I think that will be the first word in most comments on this post. The honesty and self-reflection in this post is awe inspiring. It made me think of the stories I don't want my children to know, the ones I don't want to even acknowledge to myself.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous ScientistMother said...

Your courage and the honesty with which you write continues to be an inspiration. WB is lucky to have a mom who can articulate such difficult thoughts and emotions so well. I think the stories that you have shared with us today demonstrate that we are not defined by single events in our lives, but that it is the culmination of the choices that we make and how we deal with the consequence of those choices that makes us who we are. Letting your friend fall did not make you mean or evil. What did you do after she fell? did you apologize? You feel remorse and shame, did you do it again or learn from your actions? That is what defines you more than a lapse in judgement. We are all human and therefore imperfect, which may be the best lesson for WB to learn. Perfection is impossible attain and trying to be perfect can make a person miserable if they constantly strive for something that is unattainable. HUGS to you and WB.

PS. I know you do not want comments from yesterday but do not feel guilty for not leaving comments. I left only 2 anonymous comments in 15 months before delurking last week and am sure there are many other lurkers that appreciate your wisdom.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Oh, you hit it right on the head: I'll tell pretty much any story as long as it has purpose or meaning or something ... more to it. No postmodernist, I like things with a beginning, a middle, and an end: when is Godot going to show up? It can't be about nothing: I mean, in some ways, having children is about denying that there's more than just ... what it is.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Tracey said...

The story about being a mean child, even if only for a moment, would be something to share when she makes a good choice in a hard situation. Or when she is confused about what IS the right thing to do. Or, can be used to show that Mommy is NOT perfect, and that small decisions like letting go of a hand CAN haunt you for the rest of your life. Also, that even people who make deliberately mean choices can change. They can feel remorse, and become a good person.

2:20 PM  
Blogger caramama said...

Wow indeed. And what a great point that most stories can be great teaching points... but some... are just... I don't know... I guess not worth sharing.

I will be thinking about mine, but I'll bet I've blocked most of them out.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Little Monkies said...

Really an incredible post, thank you.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

I think that story from your childhood may come in handy when your daughter is a parent. Her own child my do something inexplicable that she doesn't know how to handle as a mother. Kids sometimes do mean things just to feel out the limits of what they should and shouldn't do.

I can't think of anything I wouldn't tell my daughter in the right time and context.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Redneck Mommy said...

I often wonder just what stories I should and shouldn't share.

I'm torn between filtering too much and filtering too little.

I want them to know me. Not just mom, but Redneck and Tanis and everything that falls in between.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

This was a powerful post, thank you for sharing.

I keep telling myself I'm going to share everything, it'll just be age appropriate. But at the same time I think it'll have a lot to do with my two boys and their individual personalities. I agree with Redneck Mommy, I like the idea of them knowing that I have many sides to the whole.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I guess I've never really thought about the stories I wouldn't share with my kids. That's powerful stuff.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

I covet your courage. Brilliant. Inspiring. The tears have never been so thick, so large. Thank you for sharing.

9:49 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

I was with some friends when their son, who was about 11 at the time, asked about their first date. My friend truthfully told that she had been married when she went out for the first time with her now-second husband and son's father. He said "But you aren't supposed to go out with other people when you are married." She said "Yes, I suppose that was wrong of me. But we don't always do the right thing, and sometimes it works out ok in the end." I was amazed that she would be so honest.

10:35 PM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

Why did I do it?

That's the question I'll struggle with myself when I share those stories in years to come.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Flinger said...

I love the part about how much guilt you feel so many years after. It's like the heat that still rises to my cheeks when I think of some of the idiotic things I did in the past. It's real and it effects you for life. Strange, isn't it?

3:25 PM  
Blogger Lisa b said...

I think they are perhaps the most important stories with the risk that perhaps there is no moral to the story, no happy ending either way.
I've been thinking about your last post on your story and how you really didn't feel you had any other choice. I grew up feeling the opposite way, yet both of us believe we should have the choice.


Ps your titty shot on redneck's site is wic.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Animal said...

In my wildest daydream fantasies...

* I sing like Paul Stanley
* I compose like Arthur Honegger
* I teach like Charles Ruggiero
* I write like HBM

I recognize of course the importance of individuality and being happy with who you are. Still...you do give me something to aspire to. Thank you.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Suebob - that's exactly the kind of story that is so tricky. Where wrong maybe turns out right, for someone. But where there's still a wrong involved, one that can't be erased.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

I hope I'm brave enough to admit my frailties so my kids can learn from my mistakes. Thank you for sharing, definitely makes me think about what I would share and say.

6:50 PM  
Blogger womaninawindow said...

This is one of the deepest quandries for parents, one that is decided when we decide if we are parents, or friends, or mates of the soul. And we are all these things at different times, which is why it's so difficult to choose just one answer, one resolve. Nicely written. Intriguing, too.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous pkzcass said...

Wonderful post. And I agree with so many others that stories that don't have an apparent reason behind them are still very valuable. The point of sharing them is to show that you are human and you make mistakes and are still a good person.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Phoenix said...

I don't know that it's about bad versus good. Not when it comes to small kids. I think kids make bad judgment calls sometimes. I was a pretty dam nice and kind kid the majority of the time (baby brother teasing aside), but I once did something similar to what you did and I have no idea why. But I was six years old and kids don't always understand consequences like we do as adults. Last year my niece didn't help out her baby sister when she was in pain and we were all worried what might be wrong with her emotionally. In reality, she just hadn't ever been in a situation like that and kind of froze instead of getting an adult. When she realized that she might be in trouble, she hid. Not what an adult would do at all, but right on par for a five year old.

That all being said, I think you'd be better off to tell WB your story, when you feel the timing is right. Maybe just so when she's an adult, if she's done something like this, she won't feel ashamed to tell. Maybe knowing she wasn't the only one will take away the shame. The shame is what I think makes us not share certain stories. Maybe I'm wrong in that, but that's what I think anyway.

4:54 PM  
Blogger ~Kat~ said...

thank you for opening up to this. You know this story needed to be told because there are some of us who HAVE understanding because we've been there and there are some of us who NEED understanding because we haven't.
Your truth can guide both sides of that...

7:59 PM  
Anonymous supertiff said...

"making a choice that I still regret to the very bottom of my soul and yet do not regret at all"

i could never think of a better way ti explain how it feels.

i remember reading the initial post, and i wasn't brave enough to say anything. so, now? i want to make sure that i say thank you.

thank you, thank you, thank you.

3:18 AM  
Blogger JanMary said...

New to your blog, so have just read the initial post. Wow - so powerfully written. It will stay with me for a long time. Your blog always makes me think...even in the wee small hours as I read blogs and hear my family waking up.

I would love to think I could be so open and honest with my kids, but I think I would be too scared to...yet I think being so open and honest is the best gift we can share with our kids.

Thanks for making me think (I think!).

1:53 AM  

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