4 Reasons People Don’t Say What They Mean

We were at the emergicenter. I was holding my kid over this tiny little sink and she was throwing up dark, milky, sweet-smelling gunk.

“What IS that?” my husband asked, one eye raised.

I knew exactly what it was. But I didn’t want anyone else to know. After all, we’d just made a big, fat mess of the place, a mess that the nice nurse was going to have to clean up. I didn’t want it to seem as if it was all my fault. I wanted it to seem like a hapless accident. If you must know, I was really hoping that everyone would believe that my kid tossed her chunks because the nurse probed the back of her throat a little too long with a Q-tip.

“I don’t know,” I said in an almost whisper.

It was silly for me to play dumb, though. The room was starting to take on the smell of what my kid had just eaten too much of just an hour before. It was unmistakable. If the faint scent of stomach acid weren’t mixed in with it, the odor would almost be appetizing.

Indeed, the room was awash with the olfactory flavor of one thing and one thing only: chocolate.

Who buys chocolate for a sick kid? Don’t all mothers intuitively know that sick kids can only eat things like dry toast and Jell-O? Nestle Buncha Crunch is one of those foods that sick kids don’t eat until at least a week after an illness has passed. It’s right up there with lentil soup.

My kid had been running a high fever for about 48 hours. She’d been hacking up both lungs for a good five days. She hadn’t consumed any food in, oh, I don’t know, maybe 72 hours.

What kind of a mother takes such a kid to the movies, buys popcorn and Buncha Crunch, and lets the kid eat as much as she wants?

A mother just like me is who. I was just happy to see her eating anything, you know? And maybe I was a little sleep deprived. There’s that.

I could go into all of the reasons a smart person could do such a stupid thing. But those reasons aren’t why I decided to write this post.

No, I decided to write this post because the chocolate incident made me think of the complicated chemistry that exists between two married people, and how that chemistry can sometimes prevent them from saying what they really mean.

For instance, it’s my belief that the following emotions get in the way of good communication:

Embarrassment. I felt stupid for letting my kid eat that much chocolate. It doesn’t feel good to admit to being stupid. Therefore, I said, “I don’t know.” Oddly, my husband knew that “I don’t know” really meant, “I know but I’m not about to tell you what I know,” and I think he knew this because we’ve been married for 12 years.

Fear. I’d called my husband right after the movie had ended. That’s when I was standing in the middle of the parking lot holding my whimpering kid who was coughing as she had TB. I said something like, “I think I’m going to take her to the emergicenter. I just wanted you to know. Please call me when you get a chance.” The translation of that was this, “I’m going to the emergicenter because I’m scared. I don’t want to do this alone. I want you to come with us.” Again, he intuited this, called me back and accompanied us to the emergicenter.

Love. When we got to the emergicenter, the nurse took my kid’s temperature. I’d given my kid fever reducer just a few hours before. I told the nurse this. “You’re a little warm honey,” the nurse said to my kid. I said, “Oh she has a fever? It shouldn’t be up yet. The fever reducer should still be working. What is it?” I expected the nurse to tell me that it was 99 or 100. The nurse looked at me with an expressionless face and said, “It’s 103.7.” “Where does it hurt honey?” the intake nurse asked my kid. “The back of my neck,” my kid said as she pointed. Tears came to my eyes and I blinked them away. I pasted on a fake smile. I looked at my husband. He looked at me. Neither of us said anything, but we were both thinking, “Dear God please don’t let this be meningitis.” We didn’t say anything because we didn’t want to scare our daughter. We didn’t want to scare her because we loved her. So instead of saying what we were thinking, we pretended like everything was normal and everything was going to be just fine. Thankfully it wasn’t meningitis. It was strep.

Pride. I am a big believer in honesty. That’s why I decided to come clean the next day. I told my husband, “I really had a bad mom moment at the emergicenter yesterday.” With an exaggerated roll of the eyes, he replied, “Did you ever.” Rather than tell him how much he’d just hurt my feelings, I said, “By the way, you left the toaster on this morning when you went to work. You almost burned the house down.”

It wasn’t until hours later that I was able to overcome all of these emotions and talk candidly. I said, “You know, sometimes you roll your eyes and sigh in a way that makes me think that you think I’m stupid. You did it at the doctor’s office yesterday when she was throwing up the chocolate. When you do it, it’s hard for me to be honest with you.” He said, “I’m sorry you interpreted something I did in a way I didn’t mean.” I asked, “Oh, how did you mean it?” He stared at me, realizing that he was stuck.

“I don’t know,” he said.

I think he does know, but he’s either too embarrassed, scared or hurt to tell me.

What gets in the way of you asking for what you want? Or, if you don’t want to comment about that, tell me about your embarrassing parenting moments.

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