Have you ever had a moment when you think you must be losing your mind? That happened to me a few days ago. I was looking for my spare house key. And it wasn’t in the place where I knew that I had left it. It seemed to have just disappeared into thin air. It was right there in the basket by the front door last time I saw it.
I live by habits. Maybe I could call them rituals. I am methodical, organized, and just a bit obsessive-compulsive. It is a ritual to put the key in the same place every time I use it. Then I always know where it is. I can be confident in my obsessiveness. It works for me. It keeps me on track.
So when the key wasn’t where it was supposed to be, I became overwhelmed with anxiety. I had to figure out where it was. Did I leave it in a coat pocket? Was it in my purse or my gym bag? I began scouring the house to find the key. I emptied the basket by the door, repeatedly, hoping maybe I missed it the first time I checked. I scrounged through my purse. No luck. I checked every pocket of every coat in the closet. Nope, not there either.
And all the while, my daughter watched. She said she had no idea where the key was. She hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t touched it. I asked if anyone had been in the house. She said no. I explained that it wasn’t just a matter of having misplaced the key. I was afraid that if someone had taken it, then our security was threatened. She watched me empty the basket again. She watched me dump out my purse.
This all came about because my car was in the shop again, and I was driving a loaner. I left my keys at the shop, so I didn’t have a house key when we got home that day. Thankfully, my daughter had one in her backpack. But I needed that spare key.
After about 20 minutes of fruitless searching, I was forced to give up and continue with my evening. Time to make dinner and get ready to go to the gym. I was stewing. Where the hell was that key? It was driving me nuts! Why are things like this so difficult for me to let go? I could feel the anxiety swelling up in my chest. All that adrenalin – the tank is full but there’s no place to go; my engine was racing. This is the kind of stuff that kills people. I knew I needed to calm myself down.
Then I thought about the serenity prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Yes, that’s helpful. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I cannot change the fact that the key is missing. Accept it. Take another deep breath. OK, I’m getting a handle on this.
So we eat dinner, and dress for the gym, and head out the door into the freezing cold night. As we are driving down the road, I see that my daughter looks angry. What’s wrong? Nothing. I said to her, “I’m not mad at you. I’m just angry about something that I don’t understand and can’t control. It’s not your fault.” She thinks everything is her fault. She is constantly apologizing for things that are not her fault. Then she says, “Well, what if I accidentally took it with me to Daddy’s and left it there.” To that I say, “Wouldn’t you know that you had done that? How can you accidentally do that, or not remember that you did it, or not be sure if you did it?” I scoffed this off. I did not see this as a half-hearted admission of guilt. I saw it as a way for the child to offer a solution where there wasn’t one.
It felt so good to get on the treadmill that night. I ran my little heart out. Emptied the tank. By the time I had run three miles, I felt much more at peace. It might have helped that I kept repeating my serenity mantra the entire time.
At home, we both get ready for bed. I helped her brush her hair after a shower. As we stood there, I once again brought up the lost key. I explained that it is so frustrating because I always put it in the exact same place. And how can it go missing from the place I intentionally always put it.
Suddenly her face turned blotchy and crimson. Her lip quivered and she began to laugh and cry at the same time. In that second I knew. And I also began laughing and crying at the same time. I said to her, “Where is the key? Child, I am not going to be angry with you for telling me the truth.” In sobs, she said that she was afraid I would be mad at her. She explained that she always gets scared that she is going to forget something when her Dad arrives to get her on Fridays. So she grabbed the key on the way out the door. And she put it somewhere at his house, and she’s not quite sure where.
I cannot explain how much of a relief this was. I felt the hours of anxiety just drain away. Thank God I am not losing my mind. However, I also realized that I now had a different problem. I had to address the lie.
People lie for two reasons – to protect themselves or to protect someone else. Often there are very good intentions behind lies. However, I cannot tolerate them. Lies have caused the deepest wounds that I have endured in my life. It is one of my top priorities as a parent to teach my child the importance of being truthful and honest.
So I take a glass out of the cabinet and I ask her to hold it with an outstretched arm. I ask her how much it weighs. It’s pretty light. Then I say, “How heavy would it feel if you had to hold it like that for an hour?” It would get very uncomfortable she says. Yes. That’s what lies are like – an uncomfortable burden that you carry around. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes every day. But when you lie about it, you’ve just made two mistakes. Unburden yourself, I tell her. Live by truth.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
© Vulnerable Path, 2015