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Defining the Disclosure Line

For the past few months I’ve been
getting rather more frequent migraines- hence the sporadic missed
blogs here – and since I am after all a mother, I immediately
assumed I had a tumor and my children would grow up motherless.

Sure, I made an appointment to get my eyes checked, but it was just
a formality. The spontaneous vertigo, the motion sickness for no
apparent reason, the piercing headaches I haven’t had for
several years now – what else could it be?

Apparently, it’s my vision.

Seems I’m one of those rare people
whose eyes actually get better as they age, and I’ve been
stumbling around with a very wrong prescription for a while now. I
drove home with a lighter wallet (thanks to the need for all new
glasses and contacts) and a lighter heart.

But knowing what’s wrong hasn’t stopped the headaches
completely as I wait for my new prescription to be ready, and
yesterday I was struck with another blinder. I crawled onto bed
that afternoon as my mother occupied the girls and I waited for the
medicine to kick in. A few minutes later, I heard a little person
creep into the room, and Maddie sidled up to me on the bed.

“What are you doing, Mommy?” she asked nervously.

“Mommy doesn’t feel good right now, honey,” I
said from underneath my pillow (light being decidedly not my friend
at that moment), and risked picking it up a smidge to smile feebly
at her. “But I’ll be better soon, don’t

“Mmm.” Maddie nodded sagely, and said resignedly,
“Is it another headache?” “Yes, puppy, it
is.” “Ok, Mommy, I’ll try to be quiet for
you,” she whispered as she tiptoed sadly out the door.

Our kids think we’re invincible – tanta tara, Super
Mommy! – and any sign of weakness sends them skittering
coltishly for reassurance. And I find myself wondering yet again,
How much information is too much information?

On the one hand, kids can smell a cover-up a mile away, and if they
know you’re lying, they’ll worry that it’s
because it’s about them. Remember, children insert themselves
into any scenario, and if you tell them Mommy’s fine when
she’s clearly throwing up, they’ll assume they are the
reason she’s sick and you’re pretending she’s
fine to make them feel less guilty.

On the other hand, knowledge can be a big burden for a little
person – the kind of burden that permanently shapes a person.
I remember when I was maybe eight years old, my grandmother had
breast cancer and a mastectomy. I heard nothing of this until one
day I was chatting with my mother about something completely
inconsequential when she suddenly burst into tears. Alarmed, I
asked her what was going on.

“It’s nothing! I mean, your grandmother has cancer. But
she’s fine – she had an operation – and
it’s all over and she’s totally fine now. So you
don’t have to worry. I’m just crying from

I had to process the entire thing in roughly sixty seconds, and I
ran the gamut on fast-forward: shock, fear, grief, relief. I felt
angry that I hadn’t known about it while it was going on, and
relief that I hadn’t found out about it until the happy
ending was already in place. It was as if I was reading a scary
book, and had allowed myself to skip to the ending for reassurance.

I wonder how that shaped me, and how I respond to crises because of
it. Am I naturally an optimist because my parents shielded me from
riding the uncertainty with them, because I always came in at the
happy ending? Or do I have an unrealistic expectation that all bad
situations will work themselves out because of it? After all, I
spent eight months last year in family unemployment, and had very
little worry about the future during that time.

So as I face little problems and crises in my own adult life, I
struggle with how much to reveal to Maddie and Cora. I don’t
lie to them, but I can’t pretend bad things aren’t out
there. Sometime soon I’ll need to speak with Maddie about
Stranger Danger, and that’s going to crack her happy world a
bit, I think. When we had food poisoning she watched Daddy running
out of the room to throw up, and turned to me and said
matter-of-factly, “Daddy’s going to throw up now.
He’s sick. But he’ll be ok, because God’s going
to heal him. He’s just throwing up to get rid of the bad
stuff in his body, so he’ll feel better.”

My two-year-old had just strung together several key philosophies
into one sentence, reminding me yet again that she really does
listen. We didn’t hide the illness, but explained the
vomiting so it wouldn’t seem scary (to the child who’s
afraid to let the poop out of her body!); and she’s so used
to us praying for healing over every situation that she was
confident in calling on God on her daddy’s behalf.

So in that case, I think we got it mostly right – information
rather than denial, but reassurance and a semblance of being in
control. But I’m still not sure where that line is, and I
struggle day-to-day. I try to show myself as a vulnerable and
flawed human being to my daughter rather than a superhero: I
apologize when I lose my temper or misjudge her so I can set a good
example, and I let her see my mistakes so she won’t be
ashamed of her own. But I also have to be that reassuring, solid,
immovable rock our kids expect us to be – the one constant in
their lives, their true north on their compasses. And that’s
the water I’m still trying to navigate.


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