So, true confession: I lie to my kids.
Some days I lie to them a lot, some days not at all. Some lies are big ones, others are inconsequential. Some lies come easily, while others take a bit of thought. Regardless, they’re lies. As a person who values honesty in every other facet of my life, I can realize how hypocritical my fibbing is. And yet, I can also realize how many times it’s been a necessary part of parenting.
Some lies are a matter of convenience for me, like when our local ice cream guy rolls into our neighborhood at a ridiculous time, like 5:32 when I’m seconds away from putting dinner on the table, or 7:53, when I’m seconds away from getting my kids tucked into bed after a long day. “Sorry guys, when the ice cream man plays that song it means he’s plumb out of ice cream and he’s going back home to refuel! Let’s try to catch him tomorrow!” Or, if the kids are acting up in the market, I’ll point to a random employee stocking shelves and tell them that they are Mr./Mrs. Giant, and they own this joint, and if they don’t straighten out, I’ll march right over and report their shenanigans immediately.
Other lies come from a deep, dark place of sheer desperation, the kind of desperation one sinks into somewhere between bedtime and an hour and a half later, when their restless five-year-old is still awake – despite the fact that lack of sleep will surely turn them into an absolute monster in the morning. During these bleak moments, lies fly through my lips like there is a little Pinocchio in my mouth, pushing them out. Yes, this ring does protect you from bad dreams! And yes, this Dr. Pepper flavored LipSmackers is a magic sleepy potion, so get puckering! And no, there are no spiders anywhere in the house, including the basement. And the yard, too. Nope, nowhere on the block. Yes, I am sure.
Lies also make good cautionary tales, and this is where I really shine. These are lies that take on a life of their own, morphing into becoming something akin to Aesop’s Fables – if Aesop had been well versed in pop culture and had a penchant for the dramatic. This is an inherited trait – my Mom and Grandma were experts at this stuff. Until I was a teenager, I was convinced that my Grandmother had been America’s only child spy during WWII, and that a Mr. T air freshener hung over my bed could scare away the monsters I believed lived under it.
Take tonight at dinner, for example. We went to Applebees and were seated at a hightop in the bar area. We shuffled both kids into the bench part of the table, taking the super high swivel chairs for ourselves. Sunny started to whine almost immediately because she REALLY WANTED TO SIT THERE, PLEASE? And despite the fact that she WON’T SWIVEL IN CIRCLES OR LEAN BACK, PROMISE! We were pretty sure that she would, indeed, do all of the above. And when she was told no, that she could get hurt because the chair was too big for a little ‘un like herself, she just wanted to know WHY? WHY? BUT, WHY?
And so, she had to hear a story. A very serious story. About a girl named Sarah. Even Jeremy had heard this story and could confirm that she was just slightly taller than Sunny, around six years old, and had fallen from a chair just like that one. Poor Sarah had been very injured, and needed to go to a doctor – no, the hospital – to get better.
“How was she hurt?” Sunny asked.
“She broke…things. Many parts of her…face.”
“Oh, you know. Face parts.”
At this point I was starting to get nervous. Too many questions, little one. You were just supposed to accept that super high places are dangerous to little kids, and then we move on, and now you’re asking WHAT face parts?
“Well, the…nose. The eyes. You know, the face.”
“I want to see her picture.”
Her picture? Are you calling my bluff, tiny person?
So I did something that I’m not sure if I’m ashamed of, slightly proud of, or some mixture of both. I took out my phone and Googled a picture of Michael Jackson circa 2008-ish, and I showed it to her. Her eyes got huge, and she shook her head in empathy and said “Awww. Her poor nose.”
Let me be clear on one thing – I would never tell a lie to my kids that would hurt them, or disappoint them, or let them down. I wouldn’t ever promise something that I can’t deliver, I would never keep the truth from them about important things. We talk openly about adoption in terms they can understand. They have a rudimentary, five-year-old understanding of life and death and love and war. And I would never use a lie to intentionally scare them either – I don’t rule by fear.
But these little white lies, tiny fibs, and fake folklore? I’m totally okay with that. Childhood has its own mythology to begin with. We read our children fairytales and tell them that a magic flying lady takes their lost teeth and a bunny delivers chocolate and an old Nordic man with magic reindeer gives them presents. We tell them that if they cross their eyes they could stick that way, and that there was once a little boy who cried wolf so many times that when the wolf came, no one believed him.
If you’re the kind of parent that unleashes a lie from time to time, it’s truly okay. Eventually, your kids will realize that spinach does not make you magically strong and that it’s really you eating all the cookies and hoarding baby teeth. You will not cause a deep, emotional rift in the fabric of their beings by telling them that Netflix is being repaired, so they need to go out and get some sunshine today. Seriously. It’s okay. And if you don’t trust me on this one, let me tell you a story about the time this other guy didn’t believe me. You’ll never believe what happened.
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