Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

I promised a story about The Girl, and there are many happy ones to be told. But right now I’m concerned about the boy’s she’s dating—I don’t trust him—so this is on my mind.

When The Girl was in 5rd grade, the entire 5th grade did a poetry unit. Although she had never been one to read for pleasure, for some reason she loved the poems they studied in class, loved writing her own poems, loved it all. Naturally, she was beyond thrilled when her teacher invited her to be one of five students who would read one of their poems at an open house for parents.

For the next week the poetry reading was the topic of discussion at every meal, every car ride. She obsessed about how to do her hair, what she would wear, how she would look. She fretted about losing her voice or making a mistake as she read. She practiced ad naseum.

Finally, the big night arrived. Shortly before we had to leave the house, her father called to say that he was stuck in an airport somewhere and wouldn’t be able to make it home until the next day. She was crushed but stoic.

I, on the other hand, was furious. These were the days when caller ID was new technology, a separate gizmo you could attach to your phone. While she was on the phone in the kitchen listening to his elaborate story and heart-rending apologies, I was in my room shaking with anger. The caller ID on my phone—the only one in the house—showed that he was calling from his home 10 miles away.

After a few minutes in my closet with the door shut, I pulled on a bright smile and a denim jacket for the trip to school. I tried not to lie to cover his butt, but I was a master at not pointing out hurtful truths, either. Seeing no reason to tell her the truth, I did my best to let it go.

When her turn came, The Girl did a fabulous job: stood tall, projected, read without faltering. The teacher and many parents congratulated her throughout the remainder of the evening. It was one of the proudest moments of my parenting life, and one of the most bittersweet. How could The Wasband choose to miss this?

After a stop for celebration ice cream, we drove home. The Girl bounced into the house, full of happiness, and upstairs before I gave it a moment’s thought. While dishing up ice cream, I heard her voice from above, clearly talking into the phone.


She had called his house, thinking she’d leave him a message. Of course, the SOB answered the phone. He didn’t have caller ID yet, I’m guessing.

Nobody’s fool, she knew immediately that he’d lied, despite his feeble attempts to cover his butt with more lies. She was heartbroken. Crestfallen. Whatever words exist for bitter disappointment, they applied to that sweet nine-year-old girl. Every single one.

I gathered her into my arms and together we settled into a rocking chair. When her tears slowed down, she cleared her throat and looked up at me with a serious expression.

“I know Daddy lied, Mom,” she said. “But he mostly tells the truth. When he can.”

There was a long pause.

“He’s not so good with the truth all the time,” she continued. “That’s his wound. Everyone has one, you know. Lying is his.”

Everyone has a wound. What a thing for a nine year old to know. She'd always been wise beyond her years, but this was stunning. My thoughts were interrupted by her final words on the subject.

“He made a mistake. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me.”

Suddenly, I was no longer in the family room. Instead, I was in the bar area of The Steak and Ale in Bloomington, Minnesota, where I encountered my husband of less than 6 months French kissing the co-worker sitting in his lap. He was clearly drunk, which sometimes happens at company Christmas parties. My first order of business was to get him out of there. Figuring out what it meant would come later.

“He made a mistake,” I thought the next morning. “It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me.”

Hearing my own thoughts echoed back to me so many years later took my breath away.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Or people who tolerate habitual dishonesty and disloyalty.


Suzy said...

How sad this wasband of yours is/was. Cheating not only on his wife, but his daughter. He cheated her out of love. He was the one who lost so much.
Great post as always, packing a punch.

Ziji Wangmo said...

Great Post -Children are so forgiving. But we all have to stand up for ourselves at some point. What a wasband!

Amber said...

Oh, MAN!! What a kid. And what a sorry jerk. This whole post made me feel so many things!

This post made me think of a friend who is trying to decide what she wants more; her cheating, abusive husband, or her self-esteem and life. I can't believe it is even a hard choice! But. It's not me, so...

Your comment on my post-- a post I did for her-- was so great. I came over to tell you that. I think your words gave people something to think about.


Mystic Wing said...

May we have some more, please?

~NanCourt~ said...

Oh, I am sitting here trying to swallow the huge lump caught in my throat! What a flood of painful memories this evoked....years of making excuses for a father who did not love our child as much as he loves himself. Or maybe......he does NOT love himself which is why he cannot give to his children what they need...HIM. He lost out on so much and gained so little for it. So many wonderful moments and accomplishments and events were enjoyed and savored without him. Only his lies were in attendance.....
Our child is now 21, his oldest daughter is 34 with 2 of her own kids. He loves his girls but he never learned how to BE there for them. I have cushioned so many hurts and slights done to my child and she is like your daughter, she accepts what he is and isn't and is making her life in spite of it. What a shame some parents cannot see beyond their own selfishness and shallowness and "wounds" and embrace the fleeting moments we are given with our little ones. It is too late for him now. THAT is the greatest loss of all......
Thank you for a heart felt post.

Amber said...
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