Billy Coffey
Billy Coffey

Your mama lied to you

December 9, 2010  

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

I was nineteen when I realized my mother had lied to me. It was a difficult thing to accept.

She’d lied to me before, but those were small lies—stuff like Santa and the Easter bunny. Things that seemed pretty darn big at the time but not later on, after the sting of their truth had been replaced by the knowing that I would still be getting presents and candy every year. Those are the sorts of falsehoods most parents tell their children, and I think that’s okay. You don’t get sent to hell for lies like that.

You don’t get sent to hell for lies like the one my mother told me, either. Still, that one stung more than when I found out her and Dad were really Santa and the Easter bunny. Maybe it was my age. People tend to hold on to things tighter as they grow older.

As far as I can remember, the lie started when I got a telescope for my eighth birthday. I’d sit outside for hours every night pointing it at every star and planet I could see. I saw seas on the Moon and rings around Saturn, the spooky redness of Mars and the calming whites of Venus. I was enraptured. To know that there were other worlds aside from my own? That what I saw was only a grain of sand upon the shores of All There Is? Amazing.

I looked at the night sky and saw wonder and mystery and possibility, and I knew my calling in life.

So I told Mom I was going to be an astronaut one day. And she looked at me and smiled and said, “You can be anything you want to be.”

That’s when the lie started.

I believed her. When you’re eight years old, you believe your parents hold the keys to the gates of wisdom. They know everything you’ve done, everything you’re doing, and in many cases everything you’re going to do. So if she said, “You can be anything you want to be,” that meant I was going to be an astronaut. No doubt about it.

I’ve told you where her lie began. Now I’ll tell you where it ended.

It was a year after I’d graduated from high school, and I’d drifted into a job at a local gas station. I was filling up Betsy Blackwell’s car (nice lady, Betsy, though every time I’d wash her windshield she’d turn the wipers on and nearly take off my hand), and up to the pump in front of me pulls a nice SUV. Government tags, with a NASA sticker on the back window.

That’s when I knew.

I was never going to be an astronaut. I’d never have the privilege of riding around in a nice Chevrolet Tahoe with a NASA sticker on the back window, much less seeing the stars up close. I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough. I didn’t catch the breaks. No sir, the only sky Billy Coffey would ever be under was the sky out on Pump 1 at the gas station. And he couldn’t even really enjoy that one because he was too busy trying to make sure Betsy Blackwell didn’t take off his hand with her dang windshield wipers.

I kept all of that to myself until two weeks ago. My family had joined my parents for pizza. One thing led to another and then another, and I mentioned that day at the gas station.

Mom smiled and said, “I figured if I said you could do anything, you’d end up being something.”

Ah. I understood then.

Odds are your mama lied to you, too. She said you could grow up to become a scientist or a baseball player or a musician or President. And in the spirit of transparency, I’ll admit plenty of fathers say the same thing. I know I do.

My daughter wants to be a writer/teacher/archaeologist/scientist/doctor. I tell her she’s aiming a bit too low.

My son’s aspirations are a bit more basic but no less high—he wants to work at Legoland. Yes! I tell him. Why not?

Because they might not be able to do anything, but they can certainly be something.

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17 Responses to “Your mama lied to you”

  1. Sharon says:

    My son wants to be a Lego Artist one day. He is pretty creative with them. He even sets up scenes with them and photographs them.

  2. BeckeyZ says:

    Well, I always wanted to be truck driver, but I married one instead.

  3. Joyce says:

    Is it wrong to say that lie has some value?

    I’ve been lots of things. And I’m still trying to figure out what to be next.

  4. Cathy West says:

    Hey Billy,
    I think your Mom did what all us parents do at some point. Dream big dreams for our kids. Perhaps in some hidden place within ourselves, we’re dissatisfied with the way our own lives turned out. Or we’re not and we want our kids to be as happy as we are. Or we just don’t want them living under our roof when they’re thirty.
    My parents did the same thing to me. They told me I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to – I just had to believe in myself.
    And now, at forty-five (yikes!) as I anticipate the release of my first novel in the new year, I finally believe them. And I’ve learned to believe in myself. But most of all, I’ve learned to believe in Him, without whom I am nothing.
    Merry Christmas!

  5. April says:

    I like this post. We do tell our children that they can be anything. I like to take it one step further, I tell my son that He can be/do anything that God wants him to. I hope, in doing that, that I shift his focus back to God’s will instead of our own. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Joanne Sher says:

    Very thought-provoking. Good stuff.

  7. Sharkbait says:

    I want to be a FISH when I grow up.

  8. Sharon O says:

    If your parents aren’t your best cheerleaders then who else are you going to listen to?
    We are there to help them believe they can be and will be ‘who’ God intended them to be. Our son’s son’s are very strong willed and very opionated in a good way. I said to him, “you know these type of personalities are leaders some day’.
    Our son is a police officer and runs a D.A.’s office. He was a strong willed little boy and is now a leader. We can cheer them on and pray.

  9. sharla says:

    LOL! My daughter wanted to be a veterinarian when she was little, then it changed to teacher/marine biologist/archaelogist. Around 11, she narrowed it to History teacher, and now at 16, she’s moved up to college professor. Of ancient history and cultures.

    Nothing like honing that window down to “darn near impossible to achieve”.

    But it’s not impossible. With her current grades, it might be, and I’m in that place now of having to bring reality into the picture. “You can do anything….but….you have to work to make that happen. You have to pull up your grades to get into the places you need to go to GET such a degree. And go to school a long time. And hope you make enough to support yourself along the way.”

    Not nearly as fluffy a phrase.

  10. Curt says:

    Once again your timing is incredible. Just last night I was putting my ten year old (Emily) to bed and she said, “Dad, I want to be a pop star, a veteranarian, an architect, and a dentist). I did another “parent thing.” I said, “Well then you better concentrate on getting good grades and you’ll figure out the rest later.” The world is theirs. Let’s encourage them!

  11. Kat says:

    Love this post! Too often as parents we tend to set our sights for what we hope our children will strive for much higher than they want.

    We tend to not look at what they are passionate about because we see the reality behind it. In this economy how will someone make it who wants to work at Game Stop (my youngest daughter’s aspiration) instead of being their biggest cheerleader now and work on encouraging their talents whatever they may be. In all honesty, not that many of us truly wind up with the answer to the question of what you want to be when you grow up. How will we know unless we follow our hearts and dreams and pursue our own ideas.

    We have to let our kids lead their own lives with us, encouraging and guiding them along the way.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  12. I was headed straight to the FBI. I don’t think it was until I had my first child that I accepted the lie.

  13. Billy, it seems that my parents were quite the opposite from yours. Ever since I can remember, I knew there was no Santa Claus. My father bought our Christmas presents and gave them to us. No misteries.
    About career, I can truly say that God led me into mine. When I was a kid (about 9 years-old), I loved to read so I wanted to be a writer. Later, I decided I wanted to work with movies (be a screenplay writer or director). My parents didn’t like any of those because they said I could hardly make a living out of either of them (at least, not in Brazil).
    It’s a long story but I ended up studying Information Technology in college, and I work as an IT Specialist now, and I love it. I still read books and watch movies, tough :-)
    Although my parents were way too rational (I have to say I got that from them), I’ve always felt (actually, I knew) that they would support me no matter what I decided to do. And that’s what really matters, right?

  14. Yeah, isn’t that the truth, Billy. And in my case, I actually DID get to be what I wanted to be. I fell in love with computers at age 7. Watched movies like WarGames and Tron and dreamed about working at NORAD and for big corporations as the nerdy engineer guy. Over the next 25 years, I worked at NORAD and for big corporations as the nerdy engineer guy (well, hopefully not that nerdy).

    And now? I want out of the dream. I don’t want to be that any more. I’m tired of it and realize that God has bigger purposes for me than computers. No doubt it’s been a decent job, but knowing now what I wish I knew then (isn’t that how it always is?), particularly now that God is in the equation, I connect with what you told your daughter: aim higher.

  15. V.V. Denman says:

    Ugh. I need to do better with my kids. :( Good post.

  16. Nope. I don’t believe you. And Santa IS real! I’m gonna go tell my mama!
    Lalalalala *fingers in ears*

    :) :) :)

  17. Ugh. I need to do better with my kids. :( Good post.

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