I was driving to the post office while listening to Def Leopard, as one does.
In my rear-view mirror, I saw the all-too-familiar blinking of flashing lights, and realized that I was going to get my annual speeding ticket from my friendly deputy.
A year ago, almost to the day, I received a ticket for going 40 in a 30 MPH zone. And yes, it was in the exact same location. I'm nothing if not consistent.
I spent the subsequent Saint Patrick's Day in traffic court. Dressed in my festive green, I waited next to a man wearing dirty overalls and no shirt. I also reconnected with at least four former students. Good times.
I did not want to repeat those good times. I sat and answered the deputy's questions softly, attempting to summon a tone of great remorse and utter shame. I think my hands trembled a bit when I handed him my license and registration, and he went to his car to check my record.
As I whispered expletives to myself, my older son had a series of helpful comments:
Mommy, why are you such a bad driver?
Mommy, why do we always get pulled over?
Mommy, why aren't we going to the post office?
Mommy, are you going to jail?
Because I was presently in the presence of a lawman, Owen got lucky and was allowed to live. The deputy returned with a warning, so I genuflected before his benevolent presence, and crept off to the post office.
I'll have you know, 30 mph feels very slow.
As we pulled into the parking lot, I cleared my throat and said, "Owen, can you please not tell your father about this?"
His voice sliced the air, sharp like steel. "Mommy. We don't keep secrets in our family."
Right. Ugh. Busted.
I recently read a book called Off Limits by Wurtele and Berkower, which discusses ways to prevent childhood sexual abuse. It's an awesome book, and I highly recommend it.
We can have surprises, because a surprise means that we will tell somebody something soon that will make him or her very happy. For example, presents are surprises. Folding Daddy's clothing is a surprise. But we don't keep secrets.
This phrase has worked beautifully, and it has stuck. While Owen was preparing for his Christmas pageant, his teacher often told the kids that there were secrets---harmless things, like the songs for the little play, or the ornaments they made. Each time, Owen's voice boomed from his carpet square, "We don't keep secrets in our family."
He badgered his teacher so much that she eventually changed her language to the proper word---surprise.
I didn't have to say a word, because my son was empowered with words of his own.
Because warnings from the deputy don't really qualify as "surprises," I took my medicine and told my husband. He was concerned, mildly annoyed, and it was over.
Not keeping secrets means that there is another layer of honesty and mutual dependence in our family. Yes, sometimes it's a pain. Sometimes it's harder. But I promise you---we would have it no other way.