February 12, 2021

Today I overheard my son’s first-grade virtual learning class. It was a math lesson and from the teacher’s dialogue it appeared that none of the students could give a correct answer or solve the problems. The situation continued for a couple of minutes when I heard my son speak up. 

Without hesitation I hear him say, “Mrs. H, do you want me to tell you the answers? I know all of them but I’ve just been pretending since no one else knows how to do it. Want me to stop pretending like I don’t know? The answers are 13, 42, ….” 

Immediately I’m laughing, of course my intelligent and deeply emotional son is pretending not to know things all for the sake of others. He’s pretending to help those around him. He’s pretending because he thinks it’s the most comfortable thing to do. He’s pretending because he doesn’t want anyone else to feel out of place. 

He is pretending simply because of the other people that surround him. Not for himself, but for the rest of them. 

After my chuckles dissipated, I called for him to join me. I explained that it is never good to hide your intelligence and more importantly, it is never ok to pretend to be something you’re not. Pretending is simply a temporary fix, a momentary bandaid for a bigger problem. As I’m knee-deep in my discussion I suddenly feel like a hypocrite. How many times in my own life have I pretended, especially for the sake of others? 

How many times did I pretend my grief was less than it was?

How many times have I pretended to be fine, to be ok, when I was anything but ok?

How many times did I pretend my grief had lessened or become tolerable?

How many times have I tucked away the pain, hidden the ache, and pretended that things were the same as they’ve always been? 

A lot and too many. 

I pretend. 

I’m a pretender, too. 

For comfort. For avoidance. For denial.

Mostly, for convenience. 

Grief creates some kind of B-List level acting. It starts with some quick and believable fake-smiles and eventually warps into constant pretending for the comfort of those who surround us. Pain makes people uneasy and rattled. Pretending there is no pain makes things easier for others. Pretending there is no pain makes us feel less awkward and exposed. Pretending seems easier and one day it comes naturally, just like any other bad habit. 

Here’s the thing, I don’t want to pretend anymore. 

I don’t want to be a pretender and I certainly don’t want to raise pretenders. 

I want to be free to feel, even if it’s messy. 

I want to be free to break down, even when it’s inconvenient. 

I want to be free to be smileless and tear-filled. 

I want to be free to grieve, even if it’s complicated. 

I don’t have to pretend. I don’t have to keep pretending. Instead of sharpening my acting skills I need to be practicing courage, bravery, and vulnerability to ensure my children and all those watching will do the same. 

I’m no longer going to pretend for the comfort of others. I’m no longer going to hide the messy pieces of myself to help others breathe easier. I’m going to live with the authenticity of each emotion that develops in my soul and encourage my children to do the same. 

I’m no longer a pretender.

No longer pretending. 

What about you?

xox, Chels

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A wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.

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