Inevitably, I will lie to my daughter. In some ways, I already have. There are days when the exaggerated smile I wear is just that. Exaggerated. You know the one I’m talking about. The one reserved only for babies: mouth gaping open, cheeks stretched as far back as they go, jaw muscles extended. You take on this new expression to illicit an even more expressive reaction from your baby. When you smile, they smile. And if you’re lucky, a full on giggle.
Only sometimes your happy smile is not entirely happy. Sometimes exhaustion takes over. Sometimes you are distracted by a stack of bills. And sometimes you are just bored. Of course this is usually when baby gives you their biggest, brightest gummy smile of the day. And then you smile. A real smile. Babies are smart. Smarter than we give them credit for.
Which, I have to admit, leaves me intimidated. How do I fool my daughter without getting busted? As a parent, there are lies that are justifiable. But when do they cross the line and become deceitful?
The first time I remember being a victim of deception, I was in Kindergarten. Mr Hartman, my first ever teacher, wore gray scruff on his face; not quite a beard but not clean shaven either. He dressed like Mr Dress-Up (before opening the Tickle Trunk) which was comforting to me, a shy four year old.
Holding a plastic red bucket upside down, I stare into the sandbox frustrated at my collapsing sandcastle. Mr Hartman stands tall at the end of the box telling tales of castles, dragons and moats. Thinking he says ‘boats’, I wonder how silly the King was to place boats around a castle. And in the sand no less!
That confusion quickly vanishes however, when my teacher suddenly tells us he has blue blood. We stare at him in wonder and confusion.
“No!” cries out one brave girl. “Blood is red!”
I know she is right. I have fallen and scraped myself many times, so I know. But I would never have challenged my teacher on it. I look up at him fearing we are in trouble but he looks down with a smirk on his face and a gleam in his eyes. “Really, I have blue blood.”
“Prove it!” yells a boy tunneling a truck through the castles.
Rolling up his shirtsleeve, my teacher smiles wickedly and does prove it. He shows us all his bright blue veins.
Eventually I learn what blue blood means (still making him a liar). I do not remember who explained it to me or when but I do remember that after that day, I never again trusted my Kindergarten teacher.
Ironically, I never lost trust in the one person who lied to me the most. My mother. The trick there, I imagine any successful parent might say, is to not get caught. The first time I caught onto my mom lying was when there was a mass murderer in our midst.
Our small town, population 3,000, did not have murders. Petty theft, domestic abuse and bar fights sure. But not murder. Not until the summer of 1982. I was seven years old. Six charred bodies are discovered in a burned out car deep in a park close to town. A family- grandparents, parents and two young girls are inside.
My mom never told me any of this. But I sensed a change in town. I understand the shaking of heads and whispers of ‘those poor souls’ means something bad happened. I knew that suddenly I was no longer allowed to play outside by myself anymore (not even after telling mom I would take Henry, our house ghost, with me). When I finally asked her what happened, she lied. Not that I can blame her. But kids are smarter than they look and I quickly learned through friends and eavesdropping about the murders.
What I never did learn, not until I read up on the murders today, was that the two young girls had been raped and sodamized for days before they too were killed. I have not been able to stop thinking about that since. Which leaves me grateful the community rallied together to collectively lie to their children, allowing us to stay firmly embedded in childhood, right where we belonged.
What I am trying to get at here, is how does one know the right time to deceive your children? Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny sure; what’s childhood without magic. But what about a teacher making a seemingly harmless joke? A joke that has stuck with at least one 4 year old for 27 years.
Why can’t there be a ‘How To’ book on this? How to Lie Effectively: Without Scarring your Child for Life! With countless books on weaning, potty training and feeding, surely there is a market for Deception: The Secret Lies of Parenthood. But not even a paragraph in my parenting books. Not one little chart outlining the when, how and why of lies. Something along the lines of:
Scenario- Lie-Yes or No?
“Mom, Brian said there’s a frog in his throat!”- An ensuing Ribbity Hiccup may be funny in the moment but take care of sensitive child feeling humiliated for believing the joke.
Mom and Dad Fight- While it may be tempting to tell child “Daddy is a flippin idiot!” please remember child may not understand the art of ‘blowing off steam’. Besides, the same child will be a teenager in a few short years and will do as you do right back at yah!
“Daddy, you promised we could go for icecream when I finished my homework!”- If there is beer in the fridge and a hockey game on, lie. “The store closed already hon. You took too long on your assignment. We’ll have to go tomorrow.” If the fridge is empty and Desperate Housewives is a rerun, by all means proceed to ice cream stand. Just make sure to swing by the Cold Beer & Wine store on the way.
Caught in a contortionist sexual position- Lie? Hell yes. Even if they do not believe you, living a life of denial is far healthier for them than remembering that picture for the rest of their lives!
At any rate, with no such guide to lead the way, I will just carry on with the biggest lie of them all. Us parents, why yes, we know ALL of the answers, ALL of the time.