Teachers always seem to have the best stories.
Laughing through tears, one of my longtime friends, an elementary school teacher, told me about how one of her students provided her with a detailed play-by-play of their family vacation the Monday after Spring Break.
Gory details the student’s parents would likely die if they knew she had disclosed.
About how dad got locked out of the rental house in his “tightey-whitey” underwear when he went outside in the morning to get the newspaper.
About how the student hated applying sunscreen to her mother’s back because of “all her moles that look like Cocoa-Krispie cereal.”
And about how mom and dad got into an argument during dinner and mom called him a “stupid ass clown” in front of the student and her siblings.
If you don’t want a child to repeat something, don’t say it in front of them.
Especially when you think they either don’t understand what you’re saying or aren’t paying attention.
Trust me. I have found through personal experience (the hard way) that kids do understand and they are paying attention.
When you live under the same roof, this is much easier said than done. I find my husband and I sometimes speak in “code” or text each other if we don’t want to communicate something in front of the kids.
Which brought back a childhood memory of my own.
When I was in preschool, we attended a church where one of the other members was recently divorced. The story was especially said because the woman’s husband left her for another woman, which was relatively taboo in the late 1980s. (At least more so than it is now in 2017.) As they had a young child, the former husband essentially abandoned his family and now this woman was struggling to make ends meet by raising their young child as a single mother.
Fun fact: I have a freakishly good memory about the most random things. Too bad that good memory didn’t extend to academic things like Civil War history, the Pythagorean Theorem, or Latin when I was in high school and college. I digress.
It is also noteworthy to mention that my mom and this woman were very active in the church together and regularly interacted with each other at Sunday school, in the choir, on Wednesday spaghetti dinner night, and on mission trips.
Somehow I caught wind of the situation and all I can remember hearing about is that this woman’s husband left her. I was four or five years old and completely unaware of social rules about what one can and cannot acceptably say to another person. I assume I overheard my mother telling this to my father or other people in the house.
In a likely act of kindness, my mom invited this woman and her child to spend the afternoon with our family at a local swimming pool. The plan was for them to meet us at our house and then we would head over.
The woman helped my mom load up our Dodge Caravan with towels, sunscreen, chairs, and rafts. As she was in the process of strapping me into my car seat, I inquired, extremely matter-of-factly:
My mom said your husband left you. Is that true?
I could see my mom’s mortified reaction to this question in my peripheral vision. She looked like she wanted to jump into the middle of the street and get hit by oncoming traffic.
I don’t remember this woman’s response, but my mom later said she handled it with class and went on the rest of the day unfazed, as if I never asked the question.
Several hours later, I remember my seeing my mom crying. She was horrified that her friend clearly knew we must have been discussing her personal life in the house (hey… it happens… totally get it and we do the same thing in my house! Isn’t there some sort of “household privilege?”) and equally horrified that she had to sit through several hours at the pool with her when she was humiliated and pretending the conversation never happened.
My mom was also mortified by the reality that she would regularly have to see this woman at church in the future, and feared they would constantly be uncomfortable around each other.
I know my mom was upset I asked the question, but she also knew I was young and didn’t do it on purpose. She was likely more upset at herself for mentioning this around me.
The moral of the story: if you don’t want your child to repeat something, then don’t say it in front of them. If you do want them to repeat it, then by all means, say it.
Because it will happen at the worst possible place and time.
And while I’m at it, Mom, I’m so sorry!