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…