Learn and Live
By Andrea Boltwood
When I became a mother, I started a list, Principles to Live By, for my children. The virtues of love, respect, honesty, and truthfulness were at the top. Beside each virtue, I wrote a life lesson I wanted to teach my children: Love makes the world go around is not just a cliché; treat others with kindness and respect; be honest about who you are and what you believe; and truth is always best, even if it is hard. I hoped my words would have meaning and that my children would take these lessons to heart. And they did. But as they practiced love, respect, honesty, and truthfulness, they gave me a lesson in return. One I had overlooked: Actions speak louder than words. This lesson changed our lives.
Audrey is my only daughter. She is the second born of four, and she radiates love and affection. For Audrey, a little girl’s adoration of baby dolls grew into the real-life mothering of two little brothers, Benjamin and Brett. She would feed them, sing to them, and play with them. As they all got older, she helped them dress and brush their teeth, solved their bickering, and became the one who rushed them upstairs when their dad got home from work. She put on movies or made up games to play to keep things peaceful until bedtime. I often heard her whisper, “Shhh. Dad gets mad when it’s noisy.” Words I had said myself hundreds of times.
Benjamin is my third child. He is observant, thoughtful, and understands respect. One morning after his Dad had gone to work, Ben handed me stack of drawings. “It’s a comic,” he said. He was nervous. “It’s of Dad.” I smiled proudly and tried to hold onto that smile as the crayon images became clear to me. This was not the dad I wished to see: the dad who threw footballs, the dad who flipped burgers on campouts, or the dad who took his kids to the park. It was the dad my son saw: a gray man on a couch, eyes half-lidded, a bubble of gibberish above his head; a red-faced man kicking toys across the floor; and a drinking man alone watching TV. “Don’t worry, Mom. You’re in a different comic,” he said.
Brett is my youngest, and Benjamin’s opposite. Brett is rambunctious. Honesty and rambunctiousness are rarely complementary. This became clear when Brett broke his clavicle. I was in bed nursing three broken ribs of my own when Ben told me, “Brett and I were holding hands, spinning. I let go. Brett fell on his shoulder and it ‘popped’” Later, at the doctor’s office, Brett told the doctor the same story. On the way home, Brett told me, “I lied to the doctor. My shoulder didn’t ‘pop’ when I fell. It ‘popped’ when Dad fixed it.” I told him “it’s okay” and “thank you for telling me the truth.” That’s when Brett apologized for both himself and his dad. “I’m sorry, Mom. Dad didn’t mean to. He was drunk.”
Avery is my oldest. He was 15-years-old when he came to me with his truth. He took my hand and sat me down. “I need to tell you something,” he said. He held a stack of papers he had printed from the internet. On them, I saw words like “psychology,” “clinic,” and “behavior.” He began by saying, “Dad’s an alcoholic, and he’s abusive.” He read through pages of evidence that proved his case, and when he finished, I took his hand.
“I know. It’s okay,” I told him.
“No, it isn’t.” His voice was shaky. I tried to reassure him things really were okay. They were safe, and I could handle it. He interrupted me with the hard truth I needed to hear: “No. It’s getting worse. Ben and Brett won’t be okay. We have to leave.”
Audrey’s love, Ben’s respect, Brett’s honesty, and Avery’s truth showed me that actions really do speak louder than words, and my actions were not a reflection of my words. I had sacrificed love for what I thought was security. I had paid respect at too high a cost. I had not been honest about my home. I had not been willing to face hard truths. This changed when my children changed me. Audrey, Benjamin, Brett, Avery and I have moved on to a life that is no longer about virtues to be learned. Life is about virtues to be lived.