Image courtesy of Dannelle Meyers via Flickr.com/creativecommons
Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep.
In spite of everything, I still believe in the sanctity of that statement.
When my kids were but wee kidlets, they learned that saying “I promise” is equivalent in the Claro home to engaging in a legal contract. “I promise” is better than “yes,” superior to “okay,” and infinitely preferable to the dubious and despised, “we’ll see.” When “I promise” leaves the lips of a Claro, the deed, whatever it may be, is as good as done.
Over the years other parents have called me crazy for abiding by that rule. “Sometimes,” I was told, “Things just happen and kids need to get over it.” I disagree. If there’s the slightest chance something I’m promising will not come to pass, then I do not promise. My children learned that their word should never be given or taken lightly, and that upholding a promise—or not—is a true sign of one’s character. Unless death or unforeseeable circumstances prevent making good on it, when “I promise” comes out of a Claro’s mouth, there’s no turning back.
Something my kids heard from me often was, “I can’t promise that will happen, but I can promise to give it our best effort.” In the event of a firm, “I promise,” there were broad smiles because they knew whatever they asked for was a given. Point of fact: When Mama says, “I promise,” you can take it to the bank. I thought it important for my children to know they could trust what came out of my mouth. With a son in his 30s and two daughters in their 20s, they still know they can trust what I tell them. And if I promise something, it’s golden.
I believe this is one of the biggest and best gifts I’ve ever given, and continue, to give them.
A few years ago I went through a doubtful period with my writing. I’ll call it a period of “my writing sucks,” a phrase most creatives will understand, whether you are a writer or not. Change it to “my songwriting sucks,” or “my drawing sucks,” or “my photography sucks,” or whatever. You get the idea—and you’ve maybe painted yourself with those negative colors a time or two no matter your vocation. I was in that place, mucking about in the pessimistic slime.
In the midst of this dark and icky ooey-gooiness, my daughters cornered me about the possibility of the three of us getting tattoos together, a mother-daughter bonding, as it were. Yeah, that was a big, fat “NO!” My response required no consideration at all. Well, the two of them badgered me, played me like a pair of violin masters. I should have known better, should have minded my tongue, when one of them said, “Well under what conditions would you consider getting a tattoo with us?” Fed up, I replied, “You know what? If I ever sign a publishing contract for one of my novels, we’ll go get a tattoo.” And then it came. The words I should have run away from. “Do you promise?” And being deep in the “my writing sucks” swampy goo, covered head to toe in the tarry mess of self-doubt, I said, “What the hell. Sure, I promise. Because it’s never going to happen.”
So . . . it happened. Last June I signed a three book contract with Black Opal Books. My youngest daughter overheard me discussing it with my husband. She ran into his office and said, “You signed a book contract? OMG! Do you know what this means?” “That I’ll be really busy?” I said. “No! It means you have to get a tattoo!”
Well, damn it to hell, Buttercup. That’s exactly what it meant.
By agreement, we waited until Christina stepped over the line from underaged-ness and into the world of “I can order a drink at any bar in the country.” Yes, my baby turned 21 last week, and I—well. I got a tattoo.
My daughters and I each chose a snowflake, and we each had all three snowflakes tattooed on a body part. So I have my snowflake, and also my Stephanie snowflake, and my Christina snowflake. They each have the same. Mom-daughters, mom-sisters. Symbolic of we three, the Claro women, like our stars (Orion’s Belt—a story for another post). We chose snowflakes because that was my childhood nickname, the one only my parents called me. It was a term of endearment that embodied love and acceptance, pride and individuality. The symbolism was perfect.
The tattoo is bigger than I wanted. I went in hoping for something the size of my pinkie fingernail and ended up with something much bigger, in order to accommodate all three snowflakes. I’m returning to the tattoo artist for more detail work on the whooshie stuff, as well as a small detail he missed, as did I and my daughters until just this second. How could all of us miss it? Do you see it? In any event, this is the first round result—and I have to say, it looks a lot cooler in person than in the pic:
The hubster is claiming that he’s now married to a wild woman, which is ridiculous, of course, because he’s always been married to a wild woman. But now he’s married to a wild woman with a tattoo. He’s not a big fan of tattoos, but I haven’t noticed that my having one has slowed him down any. Ha.
So I’ve come round again to the point: Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep. If the words come out of your mouth, make them happen. And sometimes you find, as I did with that trip to the tattoo parlor, that doing something you never thought you’d do isn’t such a bad thing. Stepping outside one’s personal expectation zone for the purpose of keeping a promise is rewarding to the spirit and the heart, and I’ve proven once again to my children that promises are to be kept. We’ll forever wear a symbol of the strength of a Promise, and our bond. Watch out world, because the Claro women are an indivisible unit. I promise.
Have you ever promised something you wish you hadn’t, and then had to make good on your word? Do you agree with me that promises should never be broken, or are you of the mind that they are made to be broken? In my situation, what would you have done?