Home > health, my dad, my mom, philosophy > Well, that was a mistake

Well, that was a mistake

I got distracted and annoyed today and said something I really didn’t mean to.

My mom called and acknowledged that, oh, hey, I wasn’t lying when I said that I had asthma attacks at her house. Then she harassed me about coming down to see her more often. (It wasn’t so straightforward, I’m slanting to story because I feel guilty about it.)

I was straightening up and cranky from lack of sleep and a sore back and I’m still trying to make excuses. Anyway, she told me that she’d bought an antique children’s coat rack for The Child and was going to have my dad sand it down and paint it.

“Mom, he shouldn’t sand it if there’s lead.”

“He can wear a mask.”

“Still, that dust can get everywhere. It’s dangerous.”

“Amanda, you and your brother knocked down walls covered in lead paint when you were kids! It didn’t do you any harm.”

Now, here, I say something that I swore I’d never tell her. See, I had a miscarriage and all my research indicates that there’s a better than average chance that my unusually high lead burden contributed to that miscarriage.  That lead burden came from living in NJ in the 1970s and from living in a Victorian house where there was plaster dust, paint thinner, and sawdust on every surface for most of my young life.

“It might have,” I responded. “I had the miscarriage.”

“Amanda! People have been having miscarriages for thousands of years,” she snapped.  “And lead had nothing to do with them.

I stopped myself from giving a little lecture on the relevant historical theories to the contrary and instead said, “Well, the placenta pumps all lead from the mother’s body into the fetus because it thinks its calcium.”

Then my brain kinda kicked in and I realized what I was saying.

“You can’t ever mention that to Dad.”

“Why not!?” my mother shrilled. “So he doens’t feel the same guilt I do?”

“Mom, you weren’t responsible. You didn’t know.”

“Well, your father certainly didn’t.”

And here I had a pair of little revelations.

First of all, I really didn’t blame my mother. I didn’t even think she would feel guilty. She certainly has never evinced any guilt over smoking around me my whole life — despite the fact that she did know it was bad. And frankly, in many aspects of my childhood — anything not involved with the emotional stuff — I basically discount my mother as an irrational actor. Wow. That’s kinda terrifying.

Second, I do kinda blame my dad. I forgive him, I think (proving I have more sympathy for him than for my mother), but I really can’t believe that he didn’t know it was a bad idea for kids to breathe in paint dust. It’s possible that he really didn’t know, but knowing my dad, it’s more likely that he figured he and we could just tough through it. Dad likes to wing it a lot where safety is concerned — he chainsawed his own leg three years ago. There are some interesting sub revelations here that I can see but won’t bother writing down.

Instead of saying anything else damning, I made conciliatory noises about how no one knew anything back then, we’re much more aware of lead these days, etc.

Examining my emotions at the time, I honestly don’t think that I did it out of malice. I didn’t get that stomach-twisting surge of adrenaline and anger that I get when I’m saying something hurtful with intent to wound.  I think I said it mostly because I’ve always had a policy of not lying — especially to my folks. Mom asked me a question, essentially, and I answered her. Honestly. I know that I should have evaded instead of confronting — the BFF says I need to do that more often — but telling the truth is my first response in most situations. Even when it’s not kind, tactful, or constructive.

I feel bad. I feel like there’s a chance I damaged my relationship with my mother (and, if she can’t keep her mouth shut, my dad) quite a bit. There’s also a good chance that my mom will just do that thing she does when she gets information she doesn’t like and simply ignore that the conversation ever happened.

Which is what I’m hoping.

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Categories: health, my dad, my mom, philosophy
  1. March 26, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    not knowing how old your parents are, perhaps i shouldn’t comment. but i will anyway. IF my parents were alive, they’d be 86 and 82. i’m 49. i remember when i was a young teenager, maybe 1972 or 1974, my parents being concerned about lead paint in our brooklyn house and how it might affect us so. they probably knew. but ignored. sort of like your mom smoking around her asthmatic child. neglect? selfish? abuse? you label it how you want to label and i’ll label it how i see. but i am not in it. so what do i know anyway?

  2. March 27, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    It’s a corny adage but hopefully, time will heal all wounds.

    I think your mother and my mother would make good friends (or be so alike they’d be enemies). DH and I have been struggling with her smoking habit and most people wouldn’t believe the conversations I’ve had with her before. Something tells me you would. It basically boils down to the WORLD as we know is against her personally and her smoking habit.

    I’ve said some pretty blunt things to her in the past, not just about smoking but her other annoying habits, and our relationship still exists. We’ll go through periods where our relationship is just limping along (sorry, I keep thinking, “It’s just a flesh wound!” — totally inappropriate but how my sick mind works) but eventually, we get back to whatever was normal prior to the incident.

    Good luck and maybe something good will come of your openness with her.

  3. anymom
    March 30, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Sometime you’re going to realize this isn’t about your mother at all.

    At first when we become parents we vow we’ll be totally different and make no mistakes. Obviously, our parents were idiots and we won’t suffer from the same issues. Our hearts are good, so we’ll do it right.

    Then around year 3 or 4 we realize no one on planet earth makes it through parenthood flawless. Everyone screws it up to some degree. Unless you make your poor kid live in a bubble without friends they are going to breath lead paint, hear a cuss word or be around a negative influence, ingest things like high fructose corn syrup that are bad for them . To protect them from everything would make them miserable.

    Then you realize there are worse parents than yours and you’ve racked up some bad mother karma that’s making it’s way back to you through your own lovely child who will think “she could have tried harder and done better.”

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