“To tell you the truth…”

I have two people in my life upon whom I can fully depend to tell me the absolute, unbridled truth about the way they feel.

One of them is my six year old daughter, and the other is my sixty five year old mother. It might be because they are both at an age where their verbal filters are not at their best – either not yet fully developed, or no longer considered particularly necessary. Or maybe they both just have some weird genetic disposition to saying it like it is.

Regardless, it is thus. Whether I like it or not…

Earlier this year while we were on a family holiday, I put on a nice blue top to wear to dinner. I had bought it on spec while I was pregnant and hadn’t worn it before – this was to be its debut, six months after #3 was born. But alas it wasn’t to be. My truth-loving daughter wandered into the bedroom, took one look at me and told me I looked like I had a baby in my tummy. Hubby overheard and told her it was rude to say such things. But I had been wondering if it was a bit unflattering myself, and I thought she might have a point. So I took the top off, have been doing 50 stomach crunches every night since, and that top has recently managed to worm its way back into circulation. Sometimes, the truth can be helpful…

But sometimes, it can just be a bit annoying. A few days ago, that same daughter was convinced that she needed to keep a bowl of soggy Cruskits in her bedroom overnight in order to feed some fairies who were apparently scheduled to visit. Now, I won’t attest to keeping the tidiest house in the world, but I do aspire to at least reach the threshold of cleanliness required to ensure we don’t attract unwanted rodents. Therefore, I told her no. The tantrum that ensued was quite extreme, to put it mildly. She was totally out of control, would not accept no for an answer, and told me she hated me (both verbally and in writing). When the yelling subsided and she was allowed to rejoin the family, she quietly passed me a note that I assumed would be a heartfelt expression of contrition and remorse. Instead, it said: “I’m a bit disappointed, but I still love you”.  Sure – it was honest, but somehow I found it (and the accompanying $1.20) underwhelming. I mean, I kept the cash… but where was my sugar coated apology?

My Mum is also unable to hide the way she feels. Recently I spent most of Saturday preparing a dinner for her birthday – crispy skin Asian style duck (a new recipe for me). Unfortunately, while the meat was deliciously cooked (pink, moist, succulent) the skin lacked the kind of crispiness that say, one might be expected to deliver if one wanted to remain as a contestant on Masterchef. The pan was not hot enough prior to me putting the duck breast in skin side down – I know that now – but when I suggested as much during dinner did my Mum have to respond: “Let’s just say it’s nice…”?

To give credit where it’s due, Mum sometimes tries to use a double negative to soften the blow. For example, after I wrote my first blog article, I sent her a link and asked her to read it. I didn’t hear from her for a few days, and when she next called she didn’t mention it. Eventually, I asked her if she had read it and she simply said (in a high pitched voice), “Yeah… Yeah…”. Later, when I suggested that she hadn’t liked it, she said: “But I didn’t dislike it.” Oh. But she’s my Mum – isn’t she supposed to love everything I do, even if she actually doesn’t? She used to – I’m sure she once told me I had a good singing voice… Does this mean her filter is disintegrating? And if I go and put on that blue top right now, will she tell me I don’t look unpregnant?

I guess instead of feeling mildly hurt and annoyed, I should consider myself lucky to have a robust source of honest feedback so readily to hand. Sometimes that can be hard to come by, and I have always been a bit overly sensitive – this will help me develop a thicker skin!

But then, another part of me (the overly sensitive part) thinks – would it so bad if they were to say: “I loved it! You’re so clever! When is your novel coming out?” or “I’m really sorry Mum – that tantrum of mine was absolutely out of line. I promise it will never happen again!” or “Wow – this duck is amazing! I don’t know how you do it.”

At the end of the day, though, I know that is never going to happen. So I have decided instead to remember that not everyone is going to like everything I do (even my Mum), to focus on the positives (e.g. feel proud that my six year old can spell “disappointed”), to make sure the pan is hot before I start to sear the duck breast, and to keep on doing 50 stomach crunches before I go to bed…


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