birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


She washed my mouth out with a bar of soap for telling her a lie. That wasn’t a common occurrence but it wasn’t one I ever forgot. I was not supposed to tell lies, especially not to my mother. I grew up subscribing to my family’s code of ethics, believing that honesty is not just the best policy. It is the only policy. I still believe that once a lie is introduced into a relationship, nothing is ever the same.

But sometimes telling the truth can be just as damaging. I learned this many years ago when my children were quite young. My parents were visiting me in the small Ohio town where my family lived. It was a special occasion for me when my Mom and Dad would drive over from Indianapolis to spend a week end with us. It happened less than once a year. More often my husband would load our two daughters in the car, along with all the necessary luggage and baby into our car and drive their direction.
I was excited to have them with us and eager to share our home with them. I wanted them to see that I could balance the demands of a teaching career with those of being a wife and mother. I wanted them to enjoy a meal that I had prepared, to see how bright our children were and what a great father my husband was. I wanted to show off. I wanted their approval.
On the second day of their visit, my mother and I went shopping at one of the two local department stores our small town boasted, in addition to the JC Penney and Montgomery Wards chain stores. My mom always loved to take me shopping, especially if she could charge her purchases to my father’s credit card. It was kind of a joke between them. She would come home and announce to him what he had bought for me.
That day she had picked out two knit shirts for her granddaughters. As we walked back to the car carrying our purchases, she instructed me not to put the shirts in the dryer. They were, after all, knits. I thinking, they are t-shirts even if they are some expensive brand like Carter’s
I wasn’t going to agree to that. Since I had gone back to work, I had a full-time babysitter who did all the family laundry. I explained that I wasn’t going to ask Ramona to keep track of what shirts could and could not go in the dryer.
Mom was insistent. I should probably not put them in the washer either. I could just rinse them out with Woolite and hang them up myself. I certainly wasn’t going to promise that. I worked full-time and had papers to grade and lessons to plan when I got home on top of fixing meals, spending time with family. She had no idea how hard it was just doing what I was doing already.
We went back and forth a few more times. She would tell me how easy it would be. I would tell her my reasons for thinking the shirts would be fine in the washer and dryer. We were both getting frustrated. Finally, I exclaimed, “Mom, do you want me to lie to you?”
I never expected her response. “Yes, Penny, would you just please lie to me.”
So there it was. The truth was that a lie was preferable to the truth. I thought she was telling me that she didn’t want to know the real me in my real life with my real family. I believed she preferred some some fantasy version of her daughter’s family in the cute little town with her perfect granddaughters. I told myself she didn’t want to know that I sometimes was too tired to cook, that my daughters had skinned knees and runny noses. I didn’t think there was anything real in our relationship if I had to lie to keep her happy.

Almost White but Not Really