Moving past the urge to truth-bomb

Moving past the urge to truth-bomb September 26, 2014

Loved this post from What do you do, dear: Learning when (NOT) to talk to strangers about my child’s disability.  She says that when she was first learning to adapt to her son’s spina bifida and paralysis, she would make sure to correct the heck out of every stranger who made an innocent, incorrect assumption.

I was basically punking any well-meaning stranger who happened to cross my path. No one was safe.

There was the older gentleman at the camera shop who noticed my stroller and commented that my son would be “running all over the house in no time!” To which I smilingly chirped:

“Well, he doesn’t move his legs, so he’ll probably be all over the house in a wheelchair!”

Or the woman at the park who went on and on about how fantastically clean my kid’s shoes were:

“When you don’t walk it’s a lot easier to keep them clean! Hardy har har. . .”

She recognized that this oversharing embarrassed her and made the innocent targets of her truth bombs feel guilty and ashamed, which was not her goal. She says,

 My penchant for TMI conversations didn’t come from hurt feelings or defensiveness or even the desire to spread awareness– it came from insecurity and inexperience (and also, from being a knucklehead).

I was so hyper-aware of our situation that when strangers assumed my child was on the typical trajectory for milestones and growth, I didn’t know how not to set them straight. It was like being stuck in one of those commercials where everyone thinks they’re eating delivery but you know they’re really eating DiGiorno. How can you not shout that kind of truth into the void? That kind of secret can not be contained!

I love how she decided to make a change in her attitude and her approach. Sure, if someone wants or needs to know the details, then by all means, educate. Sometimes that’s what the situation warrants. But it’s not always necessary to bash people over the head with the whole truth, especially if they mean well and there is nothing to be gained by making everything all awkward.

And, more importantly, truth is a magnanimous thing, like a tree that bears several different kinds of fruit. She says:

And if a stranger wants to gush about what a “good boy” my son is for keeping his shoes shiny and clean, then I’ll chuckle and nod and keep our diagnosis to myself. Because, honestly, it doesn’t matter why they think he’s a good boy– he just is.

Lovely.  Read the rest here.

I hope this doesn’t offend anyone whose children are dealing with disabilities, but so much of what she said — the mistakes she made, and the changes she decided to make — rang true for me, as a mother whose life has so often been out of step from most of the people we meet. When we were homeschooling, when we started having more kids than anyone could even imagine having, when we were super duper broke, and so on, I felt so, so different. I was insecure enough to feel like I had to make sure everyone knew that we knew were different, that we liked being different, that being different meant that we are smarter and tougher and more interesting and more courageous than you could ever imagine with your walking down the street in your clueless, pedestrian way, because we have lived life to the lifiest, and so on.

“OH, the four kids wrecking up the doctor’s waiting room are nothing, I have FORTY-SIX more kids at home, and here is a picture of all 723 cousins at our last family reunion. Now say it’s beautiful or I’ll know how little you understand about the beauty of life!!” or “Oh, you think it’s rough looking for meat that’s on sale, maybe you need to hear about the time I ATE NOTHING BUT HOT DOG BUNS FOR SIX DAYS AND WE COULD SEE OUR BREATH IN THE KITCHEN THE WHOLE TIME BECAUSE WE CHOSE TO BUY A BOOK ABOUT THE SAINTS RATHER THAN HEATING OIL.”

Urp. Sorry about that. It looked like arrogance, but it came from a profound insecurity. Before anyone could discover what a loser I was, I was going to preempt them with the truth, and if they avoided me after that, then it just showed that they couldn’t handle etc. etc. etc.

Meh. Let’s just relax. Most people have gone through something painful or difficult, either in the past or in the present, and they don’t feel the need to carry a sign announcing it to everyone. Most people are not out to offend. Most people, when they make a nice comment, are just trying to be decent human beings, so why  not return the favor and just be human beings together?

This is what people mean, or ought to mean, when they say they learned so much from their children. It’s not about your suffering and struggles vaulting you up to some superior pedestal of ultra-understanding, and it’s not about your duty to go dragging unsuspecting strangers up to your lofty level.

Really, if you’ve learned so much through your struggles with your own experience, then the main thing you ought to learn is how to be humane to other people. It’s easy to love and understand people whose lives look a lot like ours. It’s harder, but much more valuable, to learn how to acknowledge that we are all alike at one level or another. This is a truth to pursue and cling to!


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  • I so need to read this – my opening line is usually do you know I have 10 kids? err

  • sillyinterloper

    Heavy is the head that eats the crayons.

    • MightyMighty1

      I don’t know what this means, but it is very funny.

    • kmk1916

      Preach it!

  • The greatest insight that parenting has taught me for my own practice of discipleship is humility.

  • Sherry

    LOVE THIS! (Had to shout because it’s awesome).

  • AnonyMom

    It’s true when the statements are mostly benign or kind or things that would be said to any parent. When you have constant negative comments flung at you that are a result of ignorance, or cultural bias against disability, then by jove you’re going to be corrected. ALWAYS in a kind, calm, and maybe even humorous way, but yes you’ll be corrected. Why? Because my kid is right there and can understand you, even though you assume he can’t. And he deserves to be spoken up for.

  • Eileen

    Having been raised in a very large, very poor, very Catholic family, who, by its nature, thrust differences upon me, I spent the first 25 years or so of my life trying to be normal, pretending I was, doing what I could to fit in. In some ways, I’m still determined not to make my children de facto weird. BUT, the older I get, the more I realize that everybody’s a little bit crazy, everyone has their “things.”
    Being comfortable in one’s own shoes, and not intimidated by the shoes of others is a gift that comes with age and experience.

  • mel

    Yes! yessy yes yes. I did this. My son is autistic. I quit being the “let me tell you everything about my son” when I noticed how embarrassed people looked, and also because as my son got older I was concerned for his feelings too. We are open about discussing his issues, but now I think not every walmart cashier needs to know his entire history. I think it was defensiveness. A lot of autistic behavior just looks bratty to those not in the know. Like, when you are at the church bbq and you ask the K of C grill guy to pick you out a hot dog with the least amount of grill marks showing in hopes your child will eat it because you forgot the pack the two pieces of string cheese, bag of grapes, and goldfish crackers that he eats for lunch? So you feel compulsed to add “He’s autistic”, so maybe they won’t just think you are an indulgent idiot of a mother. And also, I think I wanted to excuse the odd behaviors quickly so people would move past what they saw as “bad” and see the good things in him. I may have partly gotten over it because I just got tired. Even when you have an autistic child, people are still full of advice anyway,,,”Oh, your giving him a hot dog? That has gluten you know. Did you know gluten causes autism?” So…now I just take it as I do all forms of unsolicited parenting input, I just nod and smile and walk away. It is an exercise in humility, at least. So what if the cashier thinks my child is a brat? It is of no consequence in the long run. My mother, however, does this compulsively still. We will be out somewhere with the kids, and she will immediately tell whomever we come in contact with about my son. “Can I take your order?” “Yes. He is autistic. What is the soup of the day?” I give her a break. She isn’t as desensitized to it, and It’s a double whammy for her. She doesn’t want people to think ill of her daughter *or* her grandson.

    • MightyMighty1

      I hate the way people look at bratty behavior and assume the worst of one’s family (or at least it seems that way from the comments/looks/being ostracized). My son was awful during our first attempt at daily Mass last night. He’s six. No good excuse–no underlying conditions. He can just be a brat. But given that we do all that we do for him and his siblings, it gets my goat to have people assume that his behavior is a reflection of something other than a gap in emotional maturity. Sometimes I want to say, “Yes–we neglect him! We slap his ass in a low-quality day-care all day so that I can have me-time. We send him to the worst school available. We don’t feed him anything but jelly beans. We beat him. We don’t discipline him. Whatever you think is causing his behavior–we’re doing it.” The other half of the time I want to talk about how we have about 3′ of shelving dedicated to parenting and another 6′ dedicated to education/home schooling, how I stay home and teach him because otherwise he’d be in special ed and learning nothing, given that he needs one-on-one time to overcome his almost unreal ability to resist working, etc. But that would never work, because the answer I’d hear back is, “You’re doing it wrong. Just do ______.”

      I have to work on developing your level of zen. 🙂

      • Rebecca Fuentes

        I know how you feel. When people observe that my home schooled daughter is struggling with reading, the assumption is that I am either not teaching her at all or not teaching her right. It doesn’t matter to them that she’s a whiz at math, an amazing artist or has almost perfect recall from just listening to something. The judgement, implied or otherwise, is that the home schooling is the problem (because there are no struggling readers in public school, right?). Home school also causes all my other problems, apparently, including my younger daughter being chunkier than they think she should be and my son being shy. 😛
        However, nothing heaps the judgement of other parents on a family like a teen sexting and teen pregnancy. Sometimes I was tempted to move away, but wasn’t feasible. I can hear it sometimes when people tell me how well I handled it, the wording implies that their precious daughter will never do anything like that.

        • Eileen

          Totally off topic, but if your little girl is really struggling with reading, I’d recommend checking out the Wilson Method. At the end of second grade, my son couldn’t get through Go Dog Go without using the picture clues to being able to read the Magic Treehouse books without help before the end of third grade. The summer before 4th grade, he read the Lemonade War without any assistance. Nothing short of a miracle for him. I’ve heard Wilson is best started around age 7 or 8 (when we began) but that even fourth grade is not too late. The Wilson Method is pricey, but I have found from talking to other moms that you can contact local colleges that offer masters degrees in reading specialization and you can very often be matched with a grad student who will take your child on for free to get that much needed experience.

          • Rebecca Fuentes

            I will look it up, thank you. It has gotten easier since I realized she is strongly auditory, but not very visual. Amazing, but playing classical music softly while we work on the reading lesson helps her concentrate.

    • Hot dogs have gluten?

      But more seriously- are you involved with your local diocesan office of people with disabilities?

      Never thought my son was disabled enough for it until we went to our first Adapted Liturgy and realized that he fit better in Mass when everyone else was acting out too.

      • Monica

        Almost everything these days has some kind of wheat-byproduct in it–usually a thickener made with wheat starch.

  • Stephanie

    Nodded my head while reading it, while thinking of our experience with life-threatening food allergies. Actually just shared the link with a food allergy support/education forum I participate in, because it is so common to get stuck with one’s “food allergy Educator’s hat” glued on permanently.
    It’s exhausting, and it does sometimes get in the way of regular old human interactions, with nice people, nosy people, educated, ignorant, opinionated and open people. It’s good to remember this on the other side of the interaction, too: don’t assume!

  • lissla_lissar

    Someday I hope to get over the desire to say loudly, “You know it’s not not nice to hit the other children/throw things/mouth off, but let’s check your BLOOD SUGAR BECAUSE YOU’RE DIABETIC and we’ll see if there’s a reason you’re being awful.” And you’re absolutely right. It comes from a place of insecurity and also defensiveness, having been told several times in public that my parenting is not up to scratch, and being an only child now coping with a small horde of children. So I have a deep-rooted belief that I’m doing everything all wrong. Plus the health issues for the oldest.

    It is gradually getting better as the horde age.

    I have wished recently and fairly strongly that everyone WAS equipped with signs saying what they’d suffered or are suffering right now. I know it wouldn’t work, but I wish we could all work from the place of tenderness for each other’s brokenness and frailties. It would be wonderful.

  • Oh my God YES. I have the same problem, wondering at what point (or if at all) in this casual conversation with a random person I should mention Beadboy1’s D.S. This mom asked how old he was or what school he goes to; do I just answer? What if she then asks what he’s studying or something, because she’s assumed he’s developing typically? That stranger laughed at the antics I described, which are normally done by pre-schoolers; if he asks how old he is, do I just say 10 and let him think I have some bizarro child? These posters and I are discussing misbehaving children at Mass; should I mention the D.S. now to preemptively explain things, so they don’t think I’m some horrible parent who can’t raise children properly? It’s this whole internal conversation I have with myself about whether I’ll see these people again, do they really need to know this, what turns the conversation might take, at what point do I feel stupid for oversharing or icky for hiding the truth, and should I really care this much about what other people think?

    Glad to know I’m not the only dork out there.

    • Barbara Fryman

      Ugh, when our youngest was an infant I would tell people bc I stopped seeing it. Every single person was like, “Duh. I can see that.” Oops.

      • Hee! It’s easier when he’s with me so they can see for themselves. And in case their eyes aren’t working, my seven-year-old will set the picture straight. “That’s my brother! He’s ten and he has down syndrome!”

        • Anna

          Heh, my 7-y-o is the oversharer too. Right after we moved into our house, a neighbor was taking a walk and stopped to introduce herself. I was obviously pregnant and she said something about being a big sister to my daughter, who proceeded to fill this woman in on my entire pregnancy and miscarriage history… (“First, there was Terri, but she died while she was still a tummy baby, and then there was me, and then…”) Cringe.

          • Barbara Fryman

            YES! Our only boy tells everyone he had a brother who is dead in his mom’s belly. Present tense. Or he will say, “My brother is a dead kid.” He’s lucky he is only 5.

  • Mary Evelyn Smith

    I had to pop over and thank you for sharing! So glad you related to my silliness and that it’s not just me with a severe over-share problem. Loved reading these comments!

  • Thanks for sharing this, Simcha. I needed to read it today.

    I over share all the time about my kids’ issues. It totally comes from a place of insecurity and trying to look like I know what’s going on, and that I have a handle on it. I don’t, and I end up overwhelming people who just mean well.

    I also do it out of loneliness. It feels so good to have a grown up to talk to that I dump everything I’ve been needing to get out on the first poor soul to ask how I’m doing. Sorry to anyone who’s been or will be the recipient of that. So then I go the other direction, overcorrect, and don’t tell anyone anything and they think I’m rude and stuck up. It happens way too often. Sorry about that too.

    • Erica S

      Oh my goodness, this is so me! Sometimes it seems like some crazy lady has taken over my normally decent sense, my tongue becomes hinged, and everything just spills……and then I go and hide for a week, and it’s 10 times worse when I’m pregnant. Ugh!! Today I told one of my son’s teachers that I was sorry that she was having a birthday party for her daughter (just because I hate them, doesn’t mean everyone does). Oh my goodness……I need some sand to stick my head in!

  • anna lisa

    Does this mean I should confront my husband for agreeing with me that we’re just so freaking weird? Because he’s never admitted to this until now.
    I brought this to spiritual direction and the priest reassured me that it was okay to come to terms with the reality
    what our M.O. is.
    AND, therefore it’s okay to admit we are weird according to contemporary standards. I’s not a box we would have liked to have checked for ourselves, but it’s okay to come to terms with it and realize that much of society (at least where we live) will file us into the odd-box. That’s just the way it is. I can’t un-weird us in their eyes.

    Frankly I’m much more comfortable with this than anyone looking at me with shining eyes and proclaiming me to be some kind of maternal rock star.
    That creeps me out even more, and will set me off giving them the quickest accounting of weird they could ever bargain for.

    I prefer to fly under the radar, but I won’t lie about stats when people start asking the inevitable questions. I’ve seen enough speechless looks to know when to preemptively say “I know, super weird.
    It’s called breaking the ice.
    (and accepting that cross?) I don’t know. It’s just awkward.

    Simcha, please don’t stop to admitting to the weird. (yes, timing and setting matter BUT) The details you share make you specifically charming. It’s how you make EVERYBODY feel better about *their* own particular flavor of weird.

    Bless you for that. (may you be open to God’s blessings for your sincere, unadulterated honesty.)

  • Episteme

    I think that it’s a propensity of Catholics in general, just one that parents have more of when they’re speaking for two (or ten). I know that I always need to fight the urge to truth-bomb as the rare thirty-something single man in the parish when all the jokes about hook-up culture and cohabitation start being made very clearly around me (I just want to scream “CHASTITY! CHASTITY! VIRGINITY!” at the top of my lungs while shaking them by the shoulders). This morning*, someone parked their car perpendicularly behind mine to pick someone up when I was trying to leave for Saturday daily mass, so I arrived late and got all sorts of scandalous looks — I wanted to hold up a “CHASTITY, REMEMBER?” sign as I took my pew during the tail end of the Gospel.

    (*to be fair, I HAD hit the snooze button on account of being up too late preparing material for this weekend’s Knights of Columbus membership drive — I wanted to truth-bomb too that I, as the one single officer, was actually the only one NOT out and about with plans last night — hence why I was working on everything in their place)

    Now I need some crayons for breakfast.

    (Although, seriously, if the other older singles in your parishes are anything like me, they’re probably the ones who will be all over the disabled kids as doubly-precious — one brother knight has four autistic children and always comes to me despite our difference in age because I’m seemingly the one guy who goes and talks to his sons guy-to-guy (especially the one now starting community college and trying to figure out what to do with his life). When God’s denied you love, marriage, and children, you realize that each one is their own beautiful Truth.)

    Pardon the interjection of non-parent commenting. I’ll go back to my corner now!

  • Guest

    Thank you so much for this, Simcha. If I may add one more thing, speaking as a mom of three children with various diagnosed mental illnesses, sometimes its just nice to “seem” normal. This past week I had the privelege of travelling to another state to hear THE Jen Fulwiler speak. But one of the things I enjoyed during the time before and after the talk was speaking about my children as if they were NORMAL. So I got to say, for instance, “Yeah, my son left for school this month so we’re empty nesters” without adding “we’re so thankful that he’s finally, maybe on track because he’s already 22 and has been in jail and was homeless for several months.” There was a time when I felt like I might be lying if I left something like that out but now I know that it does me a lot of good just to feel, for a little time at least, like I’m like everyone else.

  • Deimos

    I suffer from this too, number four daughter very autistic etc… But the thing about her gift is that it only presents itself in public as a quiet gentleness, rather more rude and robust at home but not in public.
    She has been a fine gift from God, so we won’t spend our old age wondering what to do. That and of course we get to live with a genuine innocent.

    • anna lisa

      I don’t think they will allow me to upvote this more.

  • Tiffany

    Vintage Simmy, “…to the lifiest” — snorted all over my 17th cup of coffee. I had to look up Jesus Juking in the friggin’ urban dictionary (guilty), and this post is a great complement to that.

  • June1111

    Oh, man… I’m a bit late to the party but something similar just happened to me last night.

    I was chatting with my (pro-choice, post-abortive, career-first) friend on the phone when my kids decided to both whine and cry and just generally be incredibly annoying at the same time. She noticed how frantic I sounded and suggested ending the conversation so I could attend to my monkeys. After we hung up, I felt HORRIBLE. I am always trying to make things seem so pro-life, pro-family… like this is the greatest thing in the world and worth every minute of interrupted sleep and poop explosions… but I fall so short. I get overwhelmed in an instant and she can hear it. Then I start to hate myself for not being a good enough witness to the culture of life. I don’t think I have sold her on motherhood/love of God at all. I texted her afterwards and apologized and she said, no, no, it’s me (meaning her who finds the idea of children still quite frightening). Gah!!! Please pray for us both? Thank you.

    • anna lisa

      It’s not you. It’s that you are feeling self conscious when you compare yourself to the world’s standards.
      This too will pass.
      –and then you will miss it.
      Nobody ever missed a lack of life.
      Last night I dreamt of an uncomfortable bed, and a sweet,needy infant that wouldn’t sleep.
      I woke up nostalgic.