“Dear, I know I promised I’d attend your graduation dinner, but my teeth are still sore.” This was yet another excuse Mom used to break her promise to me and to not attend my junior high school grad ceremony.
From no birthday gifts, to milk made from powder, to missing chocolate cakes for my Cub Scout monthly Father and son dinner; a whole host of adults in my life were extraordinary at forgetting what they promised. It felt like they all had amnesia.
I expended a lot energy trying to cover up, with lies, why I didn’t do what I said I would do. I joke with close friends who know my story, that I have a PhD in promise breaking. In short, keeping my word can still be a challenge.
So as much as I don’t want to admit it and in keeping with the dysfunction bestowed upon me by my family, I want to say, “I’ll always keep my promise.” That of course would be a lie.
Years backpedalling on a whole host of fabrications has me discovering that what I thought was normal, not having to keep promises, was clearly abnormal. The impact of living with an alcoholic father and an enabling adult mother makes for discerning between normal and abnormal a little eschewed.
I learned very early in life, in elementary school actually, that no one in my family was there to show me the value of keeping promises. I was destined to do this work on my own or find other teachers who were not my family.
As a little Catholic boy, there was one incentive that always worked at helping me keep my promises at school; the infamous Catholic holy sticker. If I’d done my homework or excelled at something in class, the teacher would give me a holy sticker.
I was never sure who trumped whom, the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ. But the teaching was powerful: keep your promises, do what you are told and there’s something in it for you. If you don’t keep them, however, you go to straight to hell.
During recess in Grade 5, while walking with my elementary school teacher, Mr. Winkerter, I first grasped the notion of how important it is to do what you say you will do.
As we walked, me holding his hand, I remember him saying, “You see Tommy, people will be drawn to you if they know you keep your promises. But, you have to keep your promises to yourself first.” For that kind of practical wisdom I was willing to give up playing at recess.
When I don’t keep my promises as an adult, I actually allow my 9 year little boy to run my life. He’s looking for some kind of recognition, perhaps a holy sticker or two. I can still feel fear, confusion, embarrassment and shame when I’m not keeping my promises today. They are the same feelings I remember as a little boy as if to hear “you have been bad”.
If all the little boy in me wanted was to be acknowledged when he kept his promises, I’ve learned to bring that kind of wisdom and play to the adult version of myself.
So when the idea of juicing fresh vegetables and fruits came to me as a way to increase my vitality I had to work with my little boy to make sure I could keep the promise to myself. After all, the adult in me knows that honouring my promise and the success I have with that, is directly proportional to keeping promises I have made with other people in my life.
So for each day during the month of August I rewarded myself with a superhero sticker once I completed juicing twice a day. Not only am I keeping promises to others in my life, in a more powerful way, I have a great juicing habit and a giant DC Comic Super Friends Sticker Book, so gay but so fabulous.
The simplicity of keeping my promises is awe-inspiring. Honouring what my little boy needs is a vital part of functioning well as an adult. Plus, I now know that superhero stickers trump the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ holy stickers any day.