Alicia Sokol, a photographer and writer, lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Andy, and their two sons, Matthew, 7, and Gabriel, 4. Alicia writes the cooking blog, Weekly Greens (www.weeklygreens.com), which she developed to help busy families take the guesswork out of planning and creating fresh, seasonal weeknight meals.
Dear Matthew and Gabriel,
When I was three years old, I told my mom “I wish you were dead.” (Can you imagine me saying such a thing to your sweet grandma?) No one remembers what injustice she had inflicted on to me to elicit such a response.
Stung by my words, she told my father about the incident later that day. “Alicia told me she wished I were dead,” she said.
“Well, that makes two of us,” he replied.
My mother was shocked, interpreting his words to mean he also wished she were dead. She began to rethink her life. Why was she married to someone who wished her dead? Why stay in a house with people who wanted her gone?
So she grabbed her coat and purse and headed to the mall.
“Just pretend I’m dead!” she said as she pulled the door closed behind her, leaving my father to care for my younger brother, your Uncle Tony, and me.
She milled about the mall as she turned the caustic words over and over in her mind. Finally, she returned home, still quite upset. She found my father seated in an armchair with a child on each knee.
“She arose!” he said, daring to make light of her dramatic exit just hours before.
In response to his joke, her anger grew hotter. And yet there she let the matter lay, carrying on with life and motherhood.
Several weeks later, though, my mother brought up the incident. At first my father had no idea what she was talking about.
“You said you wished I were dead,” my mother reminded him.
“What? I never said such a thing,” he said, confused by her accusation. “Of course I don’t wish you dead. How could you believe I’d say something like that?”
“I told you Alicia said she wished I were dead and you said you did, too,” she shot back.
“That’s not what I said. I said, ‘That makes two of us,’ meaning that she’d told me the very same thing earlier that day,” he explained.
“Really? That’s what you meant?” my mother stood before him slack-jawed and stunned. “I misinterpreted your words and then I was mad about it for days! That’s why I went to the mall that afternoon. And I was furious when I returned and you made a joke of it!”
She had endured needless suffering over a few misinterpreted words.
“Did you really think I wished you were dead?” my father said. “I love you. I would never say such a thing.”
They laughed about it and vowed to communicate more openly going forward.
I was reminded of this story just last week. You, Gabriel, wanted something — a toy, a treat, five more minutes to play, I forget exactly what. And I said “no.”
And then you, frustrated at being denied something to which you felt entitled, objected. Angrily, you said, “I want a new mama.”
Now, I know that you no more meant you wanted a new mother than I meant I wished my own mother dead. I never truly believed anyone would love me more and take better care of me than my mother, just as I hope you realize the same about me.
But that’s how it sometimes goes between parents and children. We say stuff. We disagree with each other, we get disappointed in each other, we misunderstand each other. And someone gets hurt. And nobody really wants to hurt anyone.
All this illustrates an important lesson. We have to talk with each other and share our feelings. We’ll all feel so much better if we do. After all, it never pays to assume anything, least of all that each of us always means exactly what we say. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes we’re actually trying to say something else.
Here’s what I want you to remember most of all. I’m imperfect, same as my mother, and only human. I always try my best, just as my mother did. You’re loved no matter what, just as I was loved no matter what. I always have your best interests at heart, guided purely by my desire to protect you.
I love you even when you’re naughty — and yes, even when you say you want me replaced.