Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When in Doubt, Lie

As parents, we've seen it all.  Crayon scribbles on the living room wall.  Muddy footprints on the deep pile carpet.  Chocolaty smudges on the furniture proving that, despite claims to the contrary, MnM's do indeed melt in your hand.  Finding the perpetrator of such kiddie-crimes is usually pretty easy, especially if you only have one kid.  But I've always been somewhat amazed that, even in the face of irrefutable evidence, 98.3% of all children between the ages of two and eighteen will always give the lie a chance.

It was a Saturday morning, my son Ryan was not quite three.  I heard him tooling around in the living room, so I stumbled out of bed to see what he was up to and maybe fix us both a healthy breakfast of Cap'n Crunch and brown sugar cinnamon Poptarts.  When I got to the living room, I found him sitting on the coffee table, magic markers strewn about the carpet, looking like he was auditioning for Tatted Toddlers, inked to the elbows.

Okay, I'll admit it, I had to chuckle.  But then, putting on the "stern dad" face, I asked, "Ryan, how did your arms get like that?"

He looked me straight in the eye and said, "I didn't do it."

I'll say it again, the boy was TWO YEARS OLD.  So I have to wonder, at what age do children first realize that lying is an option?  Is it a survival instinct that they're born with?  Fight, flight, or lie your ass off?  Certainly they don't learn it from their parents.  We'd never lie to our children about anything, right?

Of course we would.  And the exact degree of bullshit varies depending upon the age of the child.  For example, up until the age of five, we lie to them like this:

"I know he might look a little different, but trust me, that's the same goldfish."

Not too long after the magic marker incident, Ryan and I were at a Fall Carnival at his preschool.  They had all sorts of games and activities for the kids.  Ryan wanted to try the traditional "throw the ping-pong ball into the bowl and win the goldfish."  Sure enough, on about his fifth try, he succeeded, making us the proud owners of "Mr. Krinklebine," the slightly unhealthy-looking feeder fish.  We stopped by the pet store on the way home, and spent about thirty bucks on a bigger bowl, fish food, gravel, and the requisite ceramic scuba diver.  Two nights later, Mr. Krinklebine was floating.  Like any good parent, I went to the pet store and bought a new fish, flushed Mr. K., substituted the impostor, and all was well.  Over the next seven years, there were about twelve different Mr. Krinklebines.  Finally, when Ryan was about ten, he was the one to discover the body.  I explained the circle of life, and we gave him a dignified burial at sea.

There's a pretty funny footnote to this story.  Ryan never caught on.  Not too long ago, when he was about sixteen, he was reminiscing about the pets we've had.  "Hey, Dad, remember Mr. Krinklebine?  Man, that fish lived a long time, what, about eight years?"

I laughed my ass off.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"Um, I hate to break this to you now, but there were about a dozen of him."

"What?  You lied to me about my goldfish?"

Absolutely.

As the kids get a bit older, we have to step up our game.  They're a little tougher to fool, but it can still be done.  Let's take a look at one of the classics: 

"Being a kid was a lot harder when I was your age."

Okay, sure, kids today have all sorts of conveniences that we never had.  Cell phones, the Internet, high-tech video games.  But let's be honest, it's not like our generation grew up in the 1850's, waking up at 4:30 in the morning to chop wood for the stove and slop the hogs.  We weren't shearing any sheep in 1977, that's for damn sure.  No, the fact is my childhood was pretty candyass.  I woke up at 7:30 in the morning, enjoyed a healthy breakfast of Lucky Charms and frosted strawberry Poptarts, and walked to school in seasonably-predictable weather wearing a sturdy pair of Keds.  If it was uphill at all, we didn't really notice.  On the rare occasions we were asked to do manual labor, like shoveling snow or raking leaves, we expected (and often received) a reasonable allowance.

And we sure as hell never had to worry about some cyber-bully taking a picture of us in the locker room and posting it on his Facebook page.  Our bullies were more traditional, goons like Danny Esposito who would wait for you after class just to give you a power wedgie that you were picking out of your butt crack all through fifth grade.  Not only that, the bastard would stalk you every day in the lunchroom, and swipe your Snack Pack chocolate pudding that your mom bought especially for you because she knew it was your favorite, but you never got to eat it, not once, because Esposito friggin' took it.  And then, in sixth grade, when you were giving your oral report on the Egyptian pyramids, he accidentally (but not really) dropped his social studies book on top of your Great Pyramid, the one that took you six hours and five hundred sugar cubes to make, and had to beg your mom to drive you to school that day so you didn't drop it while you walked.

That's all hypothetical, of course.

Once our kids hit the teenage years, successfully putting one over on them becomes darn near impossible.   Not only do our kids become insufferable lunatics, they also develop a healthy skepticism of our every word.  So their questions demand a much more sophisticated level of deception. 

"Of course not!  I never touched alcohol until I was 21."
"Of course not!  I never had sex with anyone until I was married to your mother/father."
"Of course not!  I have never tried any kind of drugs."

Answering our teenagers' questions about the things we did at their age always presents a dilemma.  On the one hand we want to be honest, in the hopes that they'll be honest in return, allowing us to have open dialogue about the dangers of alcohol, drug use, and sexual promiscuity.  But what if they use our history against us?  Maybe they'll think, "Well, my dad shot heroin, guzzled tequila and nailed an endless parade of disease-ridden hookers and he didn't turn out that screwed up," and see it as permission to experiment with those very things.  "You did those things, so why can't I?" they'll say, at least, that's what we're afraid of.

So we lie.  And try to fool our teenagers into thinking that we were tee-totaling virgins until the age of thirty.

Look, I'm not condoning dishonesty.  Sure, we have to take a few strategic liberties from time to time, but for the most part, as the cliche says, "honesty is the best policy."  We're better off teaching our kids to take responsibility for their actions and to be forthright when explaining their misbehavior.

I remember one time when I was about twelve, my brothers and I were goofing around in the backyard.  We set up a few tin cans on the porch, and tried to knock them over with rocks.  On my second or third shot, I winged one a bit too hard and shattered the kitchen window.  Naturally, I pointed the finger of guilt at my brother Eric, who adamantly declared his innocence.  In an effort to get to the truth, my dad put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, "If you just tell me the truth, you won't get in trouble."

Which was, of course, a lie.

s

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23 comments:

Ocean Girl said...

We know when our children lie, but I think we are not too angry with them because it is a sign they still care of what we think or they still have fear of the retribution.

Tempo said...

..I taught my daughter to always tell the truth, it got her in a lot of trouble she could have otherwise avoided. Now she lies...like the rest of us.
It's a funny thing that we all demand the truth, get offended when someone lies to us, but lie from our first words...and it's endemic throughout every society of mankind. I'm beginning to see a pattern here...

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Lying is, for better or worse, part of human relationships, good and bad.. I give the following example of when it is permissible to lie, which I quote from "How to be a Jewish Mother":

Florence: "Sylvia! What happened to your hair? It looks like you're wearing a wig!"

Sylvia: "I am. All my hair fell out."

Florence: "Oh. Well, it looks so natural I'd never have known."

corticoWhat said...

Geat post!

How about, "Your Mother and I got married in Vegas two weeks before you were conceived."

Quirkyloon said...

Being a natural born liar sucks when your memory starts to go.

Just sayin'.

*grin*

Eva Gallant said...

Loved the post....so true!

Jeanne said...

I prefer to think of it as story-telling.

Heff said...

It's pointless for my kid to lie, because he's lazy as hell. There's always a TRAIL of clues leading to whatever he's done, because he's too lazy to cover his tracks !

M.J. said...

Fantastic post Chris. I've never understood lying to kids. Why tell them there are Easter Bunnies and Tooth Faries and such? If I give my kid a buck (yeah, I'm cheap) for losing a tooth, why can't it know that I GAVE THE DOLLAR. Same with Santa Claus. No, gifts do not get brought down the chimney by a fat man created by Coca Cola--Momma buys them with he hard earned money. Say thank you damnit!

Suldog said...

Yeah, this is as good as it gets. Having an actual photograph of your kid's inked arms puts it WAY over the top for bloggy goodness.

Of course, any post that mentions TWO different kinds of Pop Tarts would automatically qualify for my Hall Of Fame.

Joan said...

This is all so true. Now I am thinking about all the things I said, when my daughter was young!

ReformingGeek said...

My bubble has been burst. My parents lied?

Sheesh!

middle child said...

Here's hopin' to help either you or your kids - do what my grandson did. When he smooshed the silly putty into the motel air/heater thing and we asked "who did that?" He merely said, "a stranger did it." So that's the lie my man and I use now. Who left the light on? A stranger did. Why did you,...Wasn't me, it was a stranger.
Another alternative is to blame whoever is no longer there, whether at work or at home. Shit, we continued to blame this one girl for three years after she had been fired!

Candy's daily Dandy said...

"the truth shall set you free" is a mantra my kids repeat back to me like one of the Ten Commandments.

I figured it was a good life lesson for them...even if I was lying about it.

Pollyanna said...

Even a six year old is skeptical of everything. My daughter is forever saying to me, "Seriously? Really?" Darn it!

otin said...

If we lived in a world where everyone had to tell the truth at all times we would be pretty screwed! LOL

I hated the old "If you just tell the truth you won't get in trouble" line.

Sue Denyhm said...

My 10 year old daughter recently found all her old baby teeth that The Other Half had squirred away (for what I'm not sure)

From this she deduced that we had been playing tooth fairy all along instead of the real deal. And of course that all the other childhood myths were also not real.

She accused us of "ruining her childhood". Yeah, she is a drama queen.

Peter Varvel said...

"You can't tell teenagers not to have sex - it feels good. And if it doesn't feel good? Get another partner!"
~Whoopi Goldberg

screwdestiny said...

I laughed out loud at that goldfish story. My parents tried doing that with me with a goldfish I won. I was about 9, I think. But I actually saw the fish, looking distinctly dead. When I came home that day to see one swimming around, it was pretty easy for me to figure out that my dad had just bought a new one.

You know, it's a real shame I'm not going to have kids, because I could totally be honest with them, pretty much about everything except for sex. I really *didn't* touch alcohol before I was 21, and I never did any drugs. And if I marry the boyfriend I'm currently with, he can say the same thing. We would so have those talks in the bag. But I don't want children. Ah well.

00dozo said...

Funny post! I never had kids but I can relate to your post from the stories of my nephews and cousins.

To paraphrase (in parody, and only in part) Kahlil Gibran's "On Children" :
Your children are not your children.
They are the offspring of Life's longing for irony.
They come through you to lie to you.
And though they are with you, you sometimes can't believe they do belong to you.

Uncle Skip, said...

As we get older... that means when our kids have kids... we finally realize that it is much easier to tell the truth than it is to try to remember what lie we told.

Jenn said...

The first time I lied to my mom I felt kind of bad about it while I was doing it, but she believed me and that just pissed me off so I stopped lying and went for the direct approach instead -- the "try to give mom a heart attack daily" approach. 98% of her grays are a direct result of my growing years. Poor woman.

Murr Brewster said...

I don't think you need to lie. All I'd have to do (if I had children) is say, Sure, honey, I did drugs, and now I can't finish a

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