I regretted every lie I told, every wordless deception. I was a compulsive, chronic liar in my tween and teen years. The stolen sweets. The feigned stomach aches. The raided test keys. The rolling up skirts when leaving the house. The hair bleached orange with hydrogen peroxide. The pop music taped off the radio and listened to at low volumes under my covers. The bodice rippers read in the corner of the library.
One of my most ignominious: In seventh grade, I aced my square roots test, but only because I found the answer key in the closet and copied out the answers.
We are back to the square of things. I lied my way through adolescence. I think my child lies. Is there a root I can figure? In other words, did I cause this?
I teach high school. I teach all manner of teens who brag and hear out parents who lament the deceptions of these years.
Amalgamate the teens struggling with deception: Boys who lift cash from a sibling’s tips and a mother’s purse. The girls who sneak dad’s beers into their rooms to drink alone. Homemade aluminum can bongs tossed in the weeds. Burner phones. Vape machines. Altered charging cables. Juul pod caps hidden in old shoes. (Fork you, Juul) Sneaking out a bedroom window. Sneaking in the kitchen window. Not even coming home. Threatening to move out.
I worry about my child. I worry about the intoxicating luxury of lies. Lies expanding like a roomy sweatshirt, baggy clothes within which to hide.
“When do you work this week?” The parent asks. “Not scheduled yet. I’m training and doing paperwork.” The child answers. The parent looks askance. For the third week in a row? For an hour? Where is your money coming from? Do you have sugar mama?
How’s a mom to deal with texts that say, “I’m out with this friend” but isn’t?
The evidence I’m accumulating out of this fear of lies has me flummoxed. Also angry, as in the kind of anger that covers my hurt at being treated like a sucker. I want to call these out. Instead I process it all out with trusted others: my therapist, my father confessor, and friends partied hard in these years and grew to be good. They sing in unison, “Wait it out. Be patient. Call for relationship.”
I feel like they are saying: risk being used. Suffer being made a fool for this time. Be meek.
What is meek? It’s Sit down, *****. Be humble. (Thanks, Kendrick Lamar.) It means be teachable. Endure injury. Be patient. In Les Miserables, it’s the Bishop’s candlesticks.
At fifteen, I lied to my parents about taping non-Christian songs off the radio. My mom found me listening to “The Man in the Mirror” and “La Bamba.”
My parents raided my room one Saturday while I was away. I came home to hear my father listening to “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” on on my boombox, which he’d plugged in next to the computer in the office. He acted like nothing weird was going on. Until he turned around.
Caught, I started talking fast, telling all the lies a scared kid tells:
“My friend gave the tape of New Kids on the Block. She must have taped that.” Hilarious, because I was breaking the house rules having any secular music. I equivocated that NKOTB was less evil than Great White. Once bitten by this lie, my father seemed to jump back from me. It seemed like we stopped conversing meaningfully for months. I remember it like this: Every time I saw him, I quaked. I said hi. He said hi. Other than required or polite interactions, we said nothing to each other until four months into the impasse he pulled out cassettes of Queen from under the driver’s seat and told me not to tell my mom. He played me “Bicycle” and said it had been their song, back in high school, back when he wooed her while they worked together at Atz’s Ice Cream Shoppe.
Years later, I asked my dad why didn’t talk to me for months. He didn’t remember it that way. He thought we were just ships, slipping past each other on a dark ocean, no dangerous icebergs between us.
My parents must have recognized every one of my lies. When I was very young, my father spanked us for such behaviors. When I was a teenager, lying not out of fear but to get what I wanted, he changed tact. He became meek. He didn’t act out. He just stopped speaking to me, sometimes for days, sometimes longer. Later, we’d clear the air. I’d confess, and we rebuilt rapport.
I wonder at his skill. How did he learn this meekness? How did growing up a PK, having heard over and over the right and the wrong, but having his own rebellious streak, how did he regain his conscience? How did he rebuild himself? I did it by ratting out other sinners. I became intolerant. I became anything but meek. Having once been a compulsive liar, I faced everything that reminded me of my demons.
I now punish my child vociferously. I barely speak to him. A little bell in my head rings. I think I haven’t spoken warmly to my son in months because I suspect him. I need to understand how to be meek. Because it isn’t the what of meekness that’s hard. It’s the how.
In the Beatitudes, the portion of Christ’s spoken word where he teaches the dispositions of being He says:
Blessed are the Meek for they will inherit the earth.
The thing about meekness is that it’s up against image. Give up on being perceived as good or pious. Meekness is about being made a fool.
What made me quit lying? The impetus was an accidental renege in a game of euchre (see obscure games popular among Hoosiers who went to Purdue University). I happened like this: I failed to follow suit in a hand, and my boyfriend called me out. It was a stupid mistake (see “Jack of the same color is the left bower…. Oh crap, lots of lingo for people who have never heard of euchre. Sorry.). Caught, I felt like a deer about to hit by a Subaru. I lied. I knew he knew and if he couldn’t trust me to own up to a stupid play in a game — it’s only a game– then how could he trust me in the big things? So I swore off lying, in place of owning up to that one dumb lie. But I carried that silly lie with me like buckshot stuck deep in my flesh.
I became the hammer of truth. When a friend started smoking, I told his parents. When he drank shot after shot of tequila at a New Years Party while I stayed sober, I justified ratting him out again because he was only sixteen. I called out fellow Christians for years on behavior. Being good, I thought I had the responsibility to point others towards good. This is self-righteousness. See “Not Meek” where definitions are sold. BTWs,
I know that meek is a very religious term, kinda Christianese. But when I met my husband, I met a person who is truly meek. One of the first characteristics that attracted me to him was that he never corrected my silly spoonerisms and mis-rememberings. (He corrects me now. But that’s because some mistakes are like walking around with spinach in your teeth. I’d rather have it pointed out.)
When it comes to our kids, though. He is a meek man. He will say he’s had a temper. Sure. But still he’s meek. He’ll be made a fool covering over their missteps and guarding their dignity before he says anything against them. He’ll be silent and take their stoning before he lets them be struck by the missiles of others. I am still deeply attracted to this, even if I can’t make myself be as awesome as him. If I wrote a modern novel of the prodigal child, my husband is the father in that story.
But I’m a teacher of high schoolers, aware of the cumulative negative effects of teenage immaturity. And it’s having a horrible effect on my parenting.
I’d better become meek, or I may lose my child.
The trouble is, I learned to label all things. I don’t know what it means to live without clenching onto things, without proverbial rules and disciplines. All that comes naturally to me is the opposite of meek. The long-suffering nature of the meekness though is the zinger in the second passage of the Tao Te Ching. It’s below. Don’t be fooled. At first, it’s about the changing nature of dualities, which is a good lesson in itself. It teaches the shifting nature of a thing. If a thing it is beautiful, something else is ugly. Or good. Or bad. It’s as if we are trying to name, claim, identify. The dang slippery thing changes the nature of something else, or itself is changed. But really it’s about the Sage’s meekness and humility. Who is a sage but an ascetic? A monk who owns nothing. She who has no claim can claim no loss. She didn’t start and won’t finish the work. This is what parenting a teenager needs to become for me.
Like most good poetry, the wisdom is often in the zinger, the final few lines.
He makes no claim/he suffers no loss.
My children are not my own. The Creator ordained them.
“Your children are not your own. You may give them your love but not your thoughts… You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.”On Children – Kahlil Gibran
The hidden truth of parenting is that is about the parents’ development, our slow continual maturation towards our better selves. Parenting changes us. We don’t really have as much control over our children as we should be developing over ourselves. We are learning to be long-suffering, loving, patience, kind, good, humble, MEEK. Below is the text of “On Children” published at http://www.katsandogz.com/onchildren.html