I was lied to growing up. Not overtly, but in a constant, understated message that colored my view of the world and myself. I lived with the lie until I was out in the world long enough as my own person to realize that my childhood was simply not “normal”. You can imagine my dismay to realize that my worldview was so skewed, and you may wonder how I lived so long under a false guise.
It was easy, actually. My entire family was in on it. My parents, my four aunts and four uncles, my 12 cousins, my siblings, and my grandparents, who sort of started the whole facade in the first place. It was whispered around folding tables in my grandparents’ basement at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, reminded in the back rows of station wagons driving back and forth to homes and cabins and beaches and parks. We knew it from infancy, passed from one set of arms to another. It was scrawled in cards from Aunt Diane faithfully, year after year, waiting in my mailbox every birthday and, eventually, anniversary. It was baked into cookies at Christmas by Grandma, then by my mom. It was in the screams and laughs at the waterpark with Aunt Nancy and Uncle Byron and in the incessant teasing of older cousins. It was in the daily hallway side hug in the high school from ‘the twins’. We were our own pack; it didn’t matter that my friend circle was always safely small. The message was so clear it rarely had to be said. It was shown in so many things, motorcycle and tractor rides behind Uncle Jim, passed on to my own children thirty years later, pontoon rides to look for eagles and fish with Uncle Art. Even in the expected wet-willies from Aunt Sharon and belly-bumps from Tom and David, the words were carved into my subconscious. The melody of it, played on grandma’s piano with an ever-growing accompaniment of instruments and voices, created the soundtrack of my childhood and drowned out the cacophony of the world.
How was I supposed to know that this kind of love was not the soil under everyone’s roots? Who would have told me that not every family has this unspoken language of love, acceptance, and support? I simply grew in the naive innocence of a family who knew each other and loved each other for, and sometimes in spite, of it all. This message made me safe, and the safety made me brave. I knew the same arms that passed me around in a baby blanket would catch me as I grew. My Aunt Nancy would let me stay for awhile when my almost-adult self was insufferable. My grandparents would send encouragement and cash at just the right times. My aunts’ and uncles’ doors would be (and likely still are) forever unlocked for a quick visit or trip to the fridge. My Aunt Ann’s wise advice from world experience would give me pause. My Uncle Tim would officiate my marriage and usher me into my own family life, where I have tried to keep this family secret alive, but found it is harder than the older generation made it seem when I was young.
The undercurrent of the lie allowed me to flourish. It gave me faith and a footing; it lingered its legacy over me. The truth of loneliness, distrust, uncertainty was held from me long enough to make me strong- strong enough to know when loneliness, distrust, and uncertainty surrounded me that I was still not alone. The innocence my family allowed me just by being who they were and loving how they did is a secret I want to whisper in my children’s ears at night. I want to tuck it into Christmas boxes and bake it into morning pancakes. I want my children to carry the love in lockets and lies, the lie that life is safe and comfortable and beautiful, until they have grown into the strength to take that love and share it with the world.