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Front Porch: Concealing big secret nerve-racking

Thu., Nov. 1, 2012, midnight

I would be a terrible spy. I’d also probably not be able to pull off an affair, tell a big fat lie or enter into a conspiracy involving serious duplicity. I’m just not cut out for it.

I know this because I’ve been hiding something for the past month – hiding it from my husband, Bruce, and absolutely everyone I know, including my youngest son. I’ve skirted around it. I’ve told half-truths. I’ve even taking to intercepting the mail so that a particular letter I’ve been expecting lands in my hands, not my husband’s.

Now this has been a good secret, actually, but the keeping of it has been so much harder than I ever imagined. And I don’t want to do it again, ever. Here’s what’s up. Our oldest son lives in Europe, and it’s been nearly two years since he’s been home. I’ve visited him, but my husband hasn’t. And – ta dah! – Carl came home for a visit last week.

When he and I first talked about it a month ago, we thought it might be fun to make it a surprise for his father, and I (not understanding how complicated this was going to get) delightedly signed on for the conspiracy of silence. We decided to tell not a single other person, since once you share with one person, that person tells one person and so on. It would be more likely than not that Bruce would run into a friend at Lowe’s or Rosauers or somewhere who would ask what day Carl was coming home. The best secret, my son and I agreed, was one not shared at all. Seemed logical at the time.

The reality, however, is that it might work for James Bond, but it was not so easy for a mother anticipating her first-born’s arrival back in the house again. Not so good for a wife who is used to sharing good news and good news-planning with her husband. But I was committed, so I continued – in silence, not a natural state for me, generally speaking.

So many times I nearly outted myself. I was telling Bruce about a lunch I had with my friend Carol and said that next time we were going to Gordy’s, which I was about to follow with “ … but I’ll take Carl there when he’s home.” I got as far as “… I’ll take …” when I realized what I was about to say and quickly said that I’d be sure to take him there soon. I’m sure my grammar and syntax were off, but I think I got away with it.

Plus, we have some social events on the calendar, so I’ve been surreptitiously going about purchasing additional tickets or changing dates. I’ve been quietly adjusting work obligations and/or doing work ahead, all of which I’ve been hiding from my husband. And I’ve been trying to snag Carl’s flight schedule, which was mailed to the house, out of the mailbox before the mail comes in.

Under normal circumstances I’d have been fussing about downstairs getting Carl’s room freshened and ready and making and freezing do-ahead meals. I’d have laid in some of his favorite snacks – which only appear when he’s home – and doing everything short of killing the fatted calf. But this time, none of that. It would be a dead giveaway.

This is tough stuff. I am so used to sharing most everything with Bruce that this parallel and sneaky existence just doesn’t sit right. This isn’t how I live my life. But I am comforted that clandestine doings haven’t come easy to me. Not that I’ve never told a little fib or cut a corner, but this behavior feels so uncomfortable. I’ve had to watch everything I say, and when Bruce asks if we’ve gotten any emails from Carl (Bruce doesn’t do emails), I’d talk about everything in the email except the really important stuff, the stuff about him coming home. I felt like I was cheating my husband of the joy of anticipation.

There’s a nonprofit group I work with that is planning an event early in December, so on the evening Carl’s flight was due to arrive, I trotted out a little white lie (it was white, wasn’t it?) and said I had to go to a meeting. I had written ABCT meeting on the calendar weeks earlier. It’s those little details that trip up spies, if you don’t get them right. So off to the airport I went.

And when I walked into the kitchen afterward, I said, “Look what I found.” And then Carl entered. I have never seen Bruce dumbstruck before, not like that. It was several seconds before he was even able to react. And then, of course, the reaction was wonderful.

Happily, there was no cardiac arrest, and our visit is proceeding with all the joy and energy I’d hoped for. But I still feel I didn’t do the right thing in planning, that Bruce missed an important part of the whole experience. We’ve been married 45 years, and I realize I’ve still got things to learn about how we communicate and relate to one another. You’d think I’d have gotten it all figured out by now.

Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at

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