One year after Christmas we went to Michigan with my husband’s family for a few days of rest. Both his brothers were going through painful divorces and I had gone from being the last of the daughters-in-laws to marry into the family, to the only daughter-in-law in a few short years. I wanted very badly to do a good job in this role, on one level because family is important, and the less elegant truth that I love being a hero.
My sons were just over 2 and 3, they were adorable. The younger one in particular looked as if he had fallen off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Blond curls, chubby little legs and sweet smile. One afternoon, during this winter week, we were all bundled inside, a fire blazing and the gentle quiet that descends on winter houses filled with families. One of my brothers-in-law was on his computer, my father-in-law was snoozing, my husband, Colin, was reading, the kids were puttering around, and my mother-in-law and I were playing Scrabble with Colin’s older brother. At that moment, the door to the screen porch blew open. My two-year-old, Peter was just walking by it, and I asked him to close it. He threw himself against it, and it closed momentarily. Seconds later, it blew back open, and Peter valiantly hurled himself against it to close it again. It closed and he said, “Stupid door!” I responded by saying something to the effect of, “Peter, we don’t say stupid,” and looking at my mother-in-law to make sure she understood I was a perfect mother in every way. Peter, was still looking at his foe, the door, and said “If it opens again, I am going to say Fuck You door……”
This is the moment when everyone started to laugh so hard we had to stand up. Ten minutes later we were still giggling and wiping away tears. The whole thing was so ridiculous, the angelic child saying “fuck you” after his well meaning but sanctimonious mother had corrected him for using the word “stupid.”
This story always makes me laugh, because it is funny. It also makes me laugh at myself. I don’t really use the word “stupid” very often, but I apparently was not afraid to drop the F-bomb now and again. My children have never failed to remind me what is true. When I am striving to make the world believe I am perfect, they will unintentionally remind me I am not — either by cursing in front of my mother-in-law, or some other equally embarrassing disclosure.
The person I lie to most often is myself. I think that’s true for almost all of us. No one wants to think to themselves, “I am the kind of person who regularly curses in front of toddlers….Or I am the kind of person who prefers to watch the Real Housewives of something instead of the news….” This was so true in my case we had to cancel the cable, to save me from my from glassy eyed, slack jawed 11 pm self.
The truth is, we are all flawed, we all want to be the hero, curse less, exercise more, improve on what is there. To improve on anything you have to be honest about it. If you are going to be honest with yourself, do it with humor, do it with kindness. Every time I find myself pretending to be something I am not, I picture a defiant toddler saying ”fuck you door” and I am reminded that our true nature will always make itself known. So try and greet yourself with a smile and a wink…..and hope you mother-in-law does the same.