“Hey Mom, are you OK?” “Sure. I’m fine.” I automatically give this reply even though it’s a lie – one that rolls easily off my tongue. I say it without thinking like we all do when one of our kids notices that we are upset, stressed or just not ourselves. We don’t normally lie to our children, but we do it without thinking when we are trying to protect them.
It’s the same lie my husband told me when our older son was born by emergency C section. They pulled him out gray and lifeless, and I didn’t hear him cry. It was a difficult delivery because he’d become transverse, and we didn’t know until they went in that the reason his heart rate kept dropping while I was trying to deliver him was that the cord was wrapped around his neck twice cutting off his air supply every time I pushed. So, they’d finally pulled him from me – literally, it took 2 doctors to get him out because he was stuck. And now, I could only hear the quiet hush of the team of doctors and nurses and medical staff frantically working on him.
I looked at my husband and said “I don’t hear him crying. Is he alive? Is he OK?” My husband bent over me as I lay there helpless and looked right into my pleading eyes and said kindly but firmly “He’s fine. They’re just working on him a bit but he’s perfectly fine.” I suspected he was lying. Though only officially a mother for mere seconds, my son had lived inside me for 9 months, and I knew he was not fine. But in that moment, I let him lie because I needed reassurance that our newborn son, our first child, was fine because I couldn’t face the alternative. My wonderful husband who knows me better than anyone else knew I needed it too. So he did what we all do sometimes to protect someone we love - he lied.
Within seconds (which felt like eternity) our sweet baby boy was wailing and the entire room all exhaled at once and the real work of making sure he was “perfectly fine” began. They whisked him out stopping only briefly at my husband’s insistence so I could get a glimpse of him as I lay there helplessly unable to move. Tears of relief and joy and then both my husband and son were gone for a series of tests.
Within hours, after such a dramatic entry, he was with us and he was “perfectly fine.”
So it’s no wonder that the lie rolled off my tongue so easily when my son asked me if I was OK –I lied to protect him from my pain. Not always, but certainly on occasion when they are young and shouldn’t be burdened with our adult worries and problems, we lie.
But my son was no longer young and he knows me well so he knew instantly it was a lie. We’d just met up in New York – a last minute trip for an amazing opportunity. One of the producers from CBS This Morning had reached out over the weekend to see if we would be interested in coming to NYC to be part of the audience for their first ever live Town Hall called Stop The Stigma. An hour long discussion about mental health with experts and guests – this was part of their continuing effort to keep people talking openly about mental health issues – a cause we are both passionate about - we immediately agreed! They also planned to have my son ask a question during the live show so there was much to be excited about. The show was early the next morning so we’d both just flown in and we’re meeting up at the hotel and heading for dinner.
It had been a hard day for me, and I had arrived at the hotel first so I’d had a good, solid hour to “pull myself together” before he arrived. I’d been talking with my husband and thought I’d swallowed my tears and would be OK for the time being. I was determined that my problems were not going to put a gray cloud over our enthusiasm of being together and being on the show. I was steadfast about that right up to the moment he kindly asked if I was okay and then with no control possible, the tears streamed down my face. I realized looking up at him as he towered over me that he was no longer my little boy that I needed to protect. He still didn’t need to hear every ache and pain in my life – his Dad/my husband and I have either other for that, but he did deserve the truth and based on the floodgate that had opened there really wasn’t any point denying it. So, we both sat down on the beds facing each other as I shared what I was dealing with at work. My now grown son who worked in corporate America last summer and already had a signed offer when he graduates this year not only understood what I was going through, he also had some sound advice and words of comfort.
We’ve never been ones to pretend everything was perfect all the time – our kids had seen us go through the ups and downs of life. We’ve had many deep, thoughtful, honest conversations with our kids – and we intently listened to their insight and learned from their point of view. Sometimes my husband and I would later talk for hours about what incredible men they had become and how sometimes it was clear they were much smarter and wiser than we were at their age. We’ve been open with them their entire lives but it was usually tempered to suit their ages.
But this, this was the first time I remember having such a difficult conservation solely about me and me hungrily listening to his wise and constructive insight. We were two close friends discussing my options, and he was reassuring me that I would figure it out – roles reversed in the best of ways.
I felt infinitely better after we talked and was so grateful I didn’t have to keep up the stoic face or the lie. Now we could go on and enjoy our special trip together. And if my emotions bubbled to the surface again I would be honest – no more “Sure, I’m fine” as that is no longer needed in our relationship.
He’d comforted me and took some of the heavy weight off my shoulders – my burden made lighter just by his love and his presence. It took me back to a time when he very much needed me to lift his burden when he walked into my room and asked “Mom, can we talk?” One of those full circle moments in life you never will forget.
So now my precious Circle of Confidants had grown to include my sons. Realizing this prompted me to write this Facebook post:
Be thankful for those who know and love you most and will hold you tight until you’re okay to keep going. Those who listen, don’t judge and wipe tears without saying a word. The ones who don’t look away when it would be much easier to do so.
Those are people you are loyal to no matter what and you would slay anyone who dares to speak ill of them.
Once you’re in my circle, nobody messes with you - not with unkind words, or judgements. I will make sure of that. You are safe in the love of our friendship, and I will always be there for you.
We are there for each other - we take turns “riding shotgun”
My circle. My lifeline. My family and my precious friends old and new and a few chosen pups. You are my everything.
Please send positive energy and good thoughts always and when needed, remind those around you that Everything Will Be OK! We can all use that reminder sometimes. Love to all
To my sons – and their significant others both present and future – we will always be there for each other – and I know now that I no longer have to protect you from sad or difficult things. I welcome you into the circle knowing that as it grows larger, we all grow stronger. I love you with all my heart…
One-hour Town Hall
Will’s question to Karamo