Spies Among Us

27 10 2008

 

There are spies living in my house. They’re not government spies. They’re not evil. But it does feel like they’re out to frame me for crimes I didn’t commit. Let me explain.

One of my stepdaughters overheard me talking to a couple of my friends one night after a dinner party at our house. She heard me tell them that I wasn’t sure how I was going to let my husband into the delivery room when I give birth, because I’ve never even felt comfortable having anyone around me when I’m feeling sick.

The adults understood that I was joking. They knew I was trying to wrap my head around something as profound as labor and delivery. They also heard me say, “Of course, he’ll be in the room with me, but it’s just so strange to think about.”

My stepdaughter understood none of these things. She didn’t hear the last line I said from her eavesdropping post in the kitchen. When she reported back to her mother everything she thought she heard me say, she said, “Jacque’s not going to let Daddy in the room when she has the baby.”

Her mother told her I was strange: All women have their husbands in the delivery room with them. And then my stepdaughter reported it all back to me. How her mother thinks I’m a freak because of a game of telephone. After the misunderstanding was cleared up with my stepdaughter, I wanted to call her mother to explain what happened, to defend myself. I didn’t, but I wanted to.

And then I felt a wave of hostility. I didn’t want to say anything when my stepdaughter was in the house. I started whispering things to my husband behind locked doors during our week with the kids. I didn’t want messages getting back to the other house that were incorrect or that I couldn’t control. Then I started feeling trapped in silence whenever the kids were over. Even though I knew that my stepdaughter was not trying to be malicious as some stepchildren are, I still felt violated.

In the one place where I am supposed to be able to feel complete privacy, I felt like there were eyes constantly watching me, judging my every move. “Yes!” I wanted to shout. “I eat organic food! No! I don’t care about watching sports games on TV!”

In the book Between Two Worlds, author Elizabeth Marquardt describes how children of divorce learn to keep secrets from their parents. They don’t tell one house what’s going on in the other house because they learn that it will upset their parents. I remember feeling that when I was a kid, and it’s a horrible burden because it makes you grow up so fast. And yet, during this whole interaction, I had the uncharitable thought that my stepkids needed to learn that lesson. They’re old enough now. I had to do it. Now it’s their turn. Time to keep secrets, people!

When I’m feeling more mature, I can see what needs to be done: I need to be the adult and talk to my stepdaughter about eavesdropping, as I would to any child. I need to chill out and not take it so personally. I need to learn how to not care what their mom thinks of me as long as it’s as harmless as something like this. It’s actually pretty funny, when you think about it.

I’m sure when the kids are through their teens and living on their own, I’ll look back and laugh at how silly all the misunderstandings were. In the meantime, excuse me while I do a sweep of our house for bugs and wire-taps.

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