The Secret Life of Children

As a mother, I thought I was supposed to know my kids better than they knew themselves. So it's a shock to learn when I've been wrong.
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Knowing My Children

Haywood and I had been married for almost a year before he thought to mention that he knew how to play golf. In fact, he went on to say, he'd been a pretty good golfer in high school. And actually, now that the subject was on the table, he was thinking of taking it up again. Today. Haywood and I did not marry in haste -- we'd been together for almost four years by the time he started keeping golf clubs in the trunk of his car -- and I knew him as well as I knew anyone on earth. But in many ways he was also, I realized then, a profound mystery. I hadn't been there for his childhood, hadn't read the same books or lived in the same landscapes or loved the same friends, all of which meant I'd probably never completely know my own husband. To understand another human being inside and out, I decided, you have to be present from the very beginning. You have to become a mother.

Which is how I came to the conclusion, long before I ever actually became a mother, that I would know my children better than they knew themselves, if only because kids grow up and forget all kinds of things a mother records on her heart. I would be the loving scientist and they would be my adorable subjects. No secret would escape me, no subtle detail would fail to capture my attention.

Any veteran parent could point out the monstrous holes in this theory. For one thing, caring for small children can be a long, boring slog, and much of it is not worth noting, much less etching into memory. Still, once the boys came along I was sure I had them thoroughly reckoned, could predict their every reaction, fathom their very depths. I didn't even waver when Sam, our eldest, was not quite 5 and a neighbor called to tell me that he had joined her daughter and another child in writing on her privacy fence with Magic Markers. I denied it: "Sam would never do that," I said without hesitation. I knew my child. The most he'd done was watch.

"Well, Sam's name is written all over my fence," the neighbor pointed out, "and since none of these other kids can read yet, I feel pretty sure they didn't write it for him."

Continued on page 2:  Piano Lessons


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