Monday, September 30, 2013

Mama, you lied to me

We pulled into the hospital parking lot with “Little Bear,” Clara’s stuffed teddy bear carefully tucked under her arms. The teddy bear’s name was a misnomer since he was not in fact very little, almost as tall as Clara’s torso. Clara and her bear had been anticipating this afternoon’s activity for several hours, and she had already dragged him with us to church, and she kept him on her lap throughout brunch, occasionally whispering to him reminders about what he could expect at the doctor’s office.

A local hospital offers an event called “Teddy Bear Clinic” where real doctors volunteer their time to help treat kids’ stuffed animals with bandages, x-rays, shots, stitches, and other remedies. The event is supposed to foster good will between children and doctors while educating children about the different departments in the hospital.

As I finally rounded the corner into the parking lot, I saw… absolutely nothing. No cars. No people. No doctors. No teddy bears. At first, I thought I had the wrong address, but when I checked online, I realized that the problem was instead the date. The Teddy Bear Clinic was scheduled for the following Sunday and I had mixed up the dates.

      “I’m so sorry, Clara,” I said, “but I got the date wrong. It is next Sunday, not today. We will have to come back next week.”

Understandably, a look of disappointment fell quickly across Clara’s face. “But a week is too long. I can’t wait that long,” she protested.

I tried to assure her that a week is not really that long, but she was not listening to any of my attempts at reason.

      “I’m sorry,” I said again. “I made a mistake.” I reminded her of the saying her teacher taught her last week about making mistakes. Clara recited her teacher’s quote about mistakes frequently during the week.

      “Do people make mistakes sometimes?” her teacher would ask and then there was a long pause until she bellowed, “ABSOLUTELY!”

Clara inevitably laughed every time she said “ABSOLUTELY.” I was hoping my reference to her teacher’s quote would help her to laugh a little.

     Instead, she turned even more serious. “This wasn’t a mistake, Mama, you lied to me.”

I was taken aback. I had never heard Clara use that word before, and I certainly did not want her to perceive me as a liar. I explained that I was not lying to her because I did not have the intention to mislead her. I, too, was shocked and disappointed to find an empty parking lot instead of dozens of doctors carefully tending to fluffy teddy bears.

Even though the context of this conflict was about a seemingly silly teddy bear event, it felt significant to me. It was the first time that Clara shared her disappointment about me as a parent directly. I remember the shocked feeling, especially, in my youngest years, at realizing that parents really don’t know everything and that they will make mistakes and disappoint, intentionally or not.

It annoyed me that Clara’s first disillusionment about my parenting happened at something as trivial as a teddy bear event and when I wasn’t even really lying. I think I would have felt better if she caught me in some grand, life-changing lie so she could really have something spectacular to share with her therapist years down the road.

Clara was quiet as she contemplated our conversation. She decided it was time for a confession.

     “I lied once,” she offered softly from the back seat.

     “Really? When?”

     “Remember last year when I told you that I didn’t put M&M’s in my ear AND I told Natasha not to tell any parents what we did? Well… we did put the M&M’s in our ears.”

I vaguely remembered this situation. Mostly, I remembered that the fine line of green chocolate circling the inner part of her ear gave away her first lie before she could find the words to confess. Although I had not thought of this incident for more than eight months; clearly, this lie was still lingering in Clara’s conscience.

As we drove away from the empty hospital parking lot, I saw in the rearview mirror that Clara was whispering again to Little Bear. I asked her what she was saying. Clara giggled softly as she explained that Little Bear was scared about going to the doctor and was grateful for one more week to work up the courage to go to the Teddy Bear Clinic. At least my mistake made Little Bear happy by biding him some time. 

And so it was that some M&Ms and a teddy bear clinic revealed Clara's first lie and my first taste of what it feels like for my little girl to lose just a little bit of faith in me.

I made sure that we DID make it to the Teddy Bear Clinic the following week. And it was pretty incredible if you are into medical interventions. Little Bear received surgery, respiratory treatments, a shot, a cardiology exam (see above), a trip to the maternity ward and many other treatments... all to treat his cold!


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