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Is It a Secret or a Surprise


As I wrote about in last week’s Lyon’s Letter, “I Joined a Band,” Nolan surprised us when he revealed that he not only joined a band, but they made an album, etc. To say that I was proud of him was an understatement. The initiative and creativity he showed were nothing short of inspiring. He did something other people only talk about. It’s very impressive!

After hearing about all this, Howard and I were in our room talking. This is where I learned how Howard found out. Nolan approached Howard to tell him he had formed a band and so forth, and he needed help mailing the CDs. This was the same information I learned a little while later. What Howard told me that I didn’t know was that he told Nolan, “You have to tell your mom about this.” The implication here is that Nolan was not going to tell me.

Upon hearing this, my brain started spinning. “Wait. Why didn’t Nolan want me to know? Why am I learning about this band thing now in this way? What’s there to hide?” So I asked Nolan to come to our room.

“Nolan,” I teased with dramatic flair, “I have a surprise for you!!!”

“What?” he replied with the monotone cadence of a sixteen-year-old whose mom is acting like a cat who ate the canary.

“I’ve been bursting to tell you about it!”

What?” Nolan said teetering between exasperation and guarded interest.

“Do you really want to know?”

“Ugh. Mom. Just tell me!”

I was pressing my luck here and I knew it. “Well, I want you to listen to the question again. I said, ‘I have a surprise for you,’ right?”


“Does that sound different than if I said, ‘I have a secret I haven’t told you yet?’” I questioned.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do. When I say, ‘I have a surprise,’ it means I have something I have wanted to tell you, but I’ve been waiting for a specific time. When I say, ‘I have a secret’ it means I have something I haven’t wanted to tell you but now I can’t withhold the information any longer. With this whole band thing, which one was it really? A surprise or a secret?”

“It was a surprise, Mom, I swear!” he protested. He picked up what I was putting down.

“It doesn’t feel that way. It feels like it was a secret you didn’t want me to know but had to tell me.”

“No. No. It was a surprise. I was always going to tell you.”

I said, “I’m not sure why this would be a surprise at all. Why not tell us you formed a band? Why not tell us you were recording an album? I don’t get it.”

“I don’t know. I just didn’t want to tell you about it yet.”

Truth be told, there are a few reasons why I think Nolan kept all of this to himself. First, as I said last week, I think Nolan felt intimidated by the idea of putting his art out in the world and the fear of possible rejection. As well, the genre of music his band plays is called “black metal,” which is not exactly what you hear on the radio. Additionally, I think he predicted how proud we were of him and so he didn’t want us to go into over-supportive mode. So, rather than spilling the beans, he chose to zip his lips.

I have to say, this was the first time I really gave any thought to the difference between a surprise and a secret. I’ve certainly been on the receiving and giving end of both. I’ve thrown and been an accomplice to surprise parties. I’ve surprised people with presents. I’ve surprised my family with the news that I was pregnant three times. I’ve also kept more secrets than I can count. There are some I have never revealed to anybody and also some that I’ve had to disclose but only because it was no longer possible to withhold. This situation with Nolan made me think not just about his hutzpah, but also about the impact of intention on disclosure. One could easily argue both a surprise and a secret are lies by omission. I can’t help but wonder, is there a difference or am I just splitting hairs? As I’m thinking about them, there seems to be something more sinister about a secret and something very playful about a surprise.

At the end of the day, if you asked me whether or not Nolan was telling the truth when he said that his news about the band was a surprise, I’d say he was lying. For now though, that will be my little secret.


P.S. For the past two posts, I’ve written lovingly (and I also hope humorously) about my son. I hope you can see the joy I have as Nolan’s mom. I also hope you know that even though these Letters have been focused on Nolan, the love I have for my family is more than I can express.

Even so, the way I write about them pales in comparison to how Rob Delaney writes about his family in his phenomenal book, A Heart That Works. As a comedian, writer, and actor, Rob’s book should be engaging. You should be prepared to laugh. And you will. However, be forewarned, you should also be prepared to cry. His heart-wrenching account of his third son, Henry’s, life and death will rip your heart out. If you think that you would never want to read a memoir about a father surviving the death of his two-year-old son because it would be too difficult, I understand. Nevertheless, you will not regret reading this book because it will move you in ways that will make the hurt you feel for the Delaneys’ be second to the warmth you’ll feel for their love for their family - and it will make you appreciate those who matter to you even more. The death of Henry Delany is tragic beyond measure. The memoir, A Hearth That Works, has beauty beyond measure. It is an unfortunate but arresting testament to love and family and I cannot recommend it enough.

P.P.S. Please remember to...

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