Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Your children tell you casually years later what it would have killed you with worry to know at the time. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

Boys. I think most of us started to realize sometime around sixth grade that boys are not like us in ways that go far beyond just the merely physical. If we are lucky we learn how to communicate with them, eventually marry one, and have wonderful little boy babies. Little boys are just amazing. They manage to embody some of the best things about being male. They are brave and adventurous, chivalrous and funny, they worship their mothers and have delightfully tender hearts. Then they get bigger and we realize that they are weird alien creatures who just don't think like we do...

This morning my friends Debbie and Leeann both have blog posts about their boys and the frustrations of raising aliens. Why do they lie to avoid trouble when they know they will get in trouble if they lie? I don't really have an answer for that question but in the spirit of commiseration I thought I would share a story about my favorite alien boy.

Zane is a fairly quiet young man. He doesn't share a lot with us so I have learned, over the years, to watch him for clues. In many ways I now do this without even thinking about it. I can just tell when something is going on with him. I call it momsense. Sometimes I think something is wrong and, despite having no evidence of a problem, I just can't shake the need to interrogate the boy. A few days ago he left in the morning with a friend. They were going to purchase a parking pass at the college where he is taking classes this year and then go back to the high school for afternoon classes. A few hours later my momsense started pinging.. some thing's not right.. so I checked attendance (I love our computerized school district) and could see that he was in class just like he should be. So I told myself to stop it and went on with my day.. but I just couldn't shake the feeling. When the kids came home from school I asked Zane how his day had been and he said it was fine.. he seemed ok and I had to run Delaney to swimming so I didn't ask any specific questions. Later that evening though the momsense alarm started again... Now I really should stress that the boy was doing nothing wrong. He was in his room doing homework and looking like a model student but I went in and started the interrogation anyway.

"How was your day?"
Vague answer.
"Was the line long for parking passes?"
Vague answer.
"Did you have any problems?"
Vague answer plus "I've got to do homework."
Hmm... this called for deeper investigation..
"Where does the parking sticker need to go?"
"I don't know."
"Oh? Let me see it."
"Uh.. I think I left it in Shaun's car."
"Did you get a receipt?"

Now I know something is up. I stand there not saying anything, waiting. Years and years of telling him that lying will get him nothing but more trouble has led to this point. We both know he is not telling the truth, is he going to add layers to his deception now?

"Ok.. the truth is..."

Well.. on the way to the college, in the rain, the driver lost control of the car and ran off the road. The police were involved but no citations were issued. No major damage was done although a poorly installed radiator shook loose and needed to be reattached. The tow truck driver was kind enough to drop them at the high school in time for afternoon classes. Everyone was ok.. but shaken up.. and my son had decided to hide it from me because he thought I would get upset. Would you believe him? Once they start lying I question everything but he had proof. Pictures of the car on his cell phone, supporting evidence provided by the little sister who saw him return to school very upset (I haven't yet visited the issue of the sister who decided not to tell me what she knew.. hmmm...), and the money for his parking pass still in his wallet.

Why he tries to hide things like this is a mystery to me. I don't lose my mind when mistakes happen, I don't go overboard and ground him for life, I don't even yell, but he rarely tells me when something is wrong. Is he trying to protect himself from scorn or is he trying to protect me from disappointment? This time he gave in and told the truth without it being dragged from him. Maybe because he was shaken by what happened. Or perhaps it's also that he is maturing. Maybe I can look forward to a future without momsense alarms. A future where he will choose to tell me things he knows I might not like because he wants to be honest with me rather than just tell me what I want to hear. A future where I trust him to be a rational adult and he trusts me with the same.

I hope so.


Leeann said...

This post resonated with me on SO MANY LEVELS.

But first- your momsense? I love the term and am somewhat jealous of you. I can read the signals my kids throw out fairly well but you- you practically had a mystical sense.. a premonition that something wasn't right when he wasn't even with you. That is incredible!

I wonder too when these things happen, when they don't tell the truth. Are they afraid of me? Are the afraid of disappointing me? Is it (so simple as) they don't want to get in trouble? A combination of these?

I remember clearly NOT WANTING TO GET IN TROUBLE. Like, it seemed better to take my chances and lie. Guess they do the same for a while.

I'm glad Zane is all right. Scary to think what could have happened.

Gina said...

I think I probably make it seem more mystical than it actually is but I definitely listen to my nagging little premonitions. The awful thing is that I remember my mother being like this too and I hated her for it. She just knew when something was up, even when she had no reason to know. One time I did something especially terrible (no, I'm not sharing it here.. my mother or kids might read it!) and I planned the whole thing very carefully to make sure nothing would go wrong but that day someone my mom knew saw a car that looked like mine at the park when I should have been at school. I wasn't at the park but my mother knew, just knew, that I had done something I wasn't supposed to. Even though I could swear in all honestly that I was not at that park she didn't believe me. When my kids lie to me I relive that day again... eternal punishment for lying to mom.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

His sister has GOT to have his back. Unless it's a situation where he's in true trouble (drugs or something equally dire) it's the way siblings should be. Twenty years from now when they're still close you'll be glad she covered for him.

Momsense is a powerful thing, indeed.

Tiffany said...

Thank God for that Momsense, or eyes in the back of the head -- or whatever! One of my boys is not communicative either so I also ask alot of questions. Good for you. Good job mom!

Karen MEG said...

Momsense: perfect.

There's probably a lot involved, like not wanting to get in trouble, not wanting to disappoint or worry. It is amazing, though, this type of radar that exists. And it's great that you have it.

Glad that he wasn't hurt and everything was okay in the end. Well, the lying part wasn't exactly okay.

Delaney's got her brother's back - I agree with Jen that it's a good thing.

dkuroiwa said...

Brothers and sisters have a special code of honor....she'll know if and when she needs to tell.
(Obviously, Koji hasn't learned of this code as he is the one to tell pretty much everything that happens, much to his older brother's chagrin!!)

That whole Momsense is a great thing...the bad thing about it is sometimes I ignore it because my hope that I'm not actually being lied to or deceived somehow is much stronger. I'm getting better...I probably just need more practice.
My mom's was pretty good, but...maybe she just expected me to get into trouble (which I did quite often).
I did explain to Issei that now, when he tells me something, I'm suspicious and he's going to have to really tow the line for a while to earn that trust back.
Aaah, life lessons. They are sometimes so hard.

Laura/CenterDownHome said...

Jesse doesn't communicate much. I know he's not afraid of "getting in trouble", but he might harbor something that he doesn't want me to make a big deal about, even if it meant more trouble for him. I think that as he grows up, he has a feeling that he should be able to handle things that come up without my help -- even if he really does need my help. Does his sense of himself as a capable, independent person suffer if he needs my help?
I know that "lying" bothers a lot of parents, and they get angry at kids who lie, but, as you're doing here, looking for a reason your child tells a lie is more important than coming down on a kid with punishment or guilt for telling a lie.

Laura/CenterDownHome said...

Hey Gina -- Strangest thing: I went from your blog to Lesley's, where I read this: "We often have mental constructs of what children should be like and what our family life should look like. These left brained constructs are very visual and rules oriented, as well as being results oriented. This is where most parenting advice comes from. You want your children to grow up to be this way, so parent them this way. This has never been satisfying to me because it tends to suck the soul out of our lives, our interactions, and to some degree, our selves and our children’s selves. . . . We can truly see the uniqueness, the radiance, the brilliance and the joy of those around us by taking a right brained observer perspective."