It’s only now, as the mother of three, that my pants seem to go up in flames on a consistent basis. It’s a terrible realization, when you’re supposed to set the example of truthfulness and transparency for the family. I mean, the children are our future, right? But oh, the damage I may be inflicting on future generations by brazenly leaning on the parental lie.
The parental lie doesn’t really count, you see. It’s really just a vague answer to end a line of questioning that could continue uncomfortable, complicated and exhausting conversation. And I find myself using it more and more. How much do you sacrifice the truth to spare your child?
In the beginning, when our babies are babies, we’re eager to tell them the straight facts about EVERYTHING.
“Look that’s a red ball!”
“Throwing food makes mommy sad.”
“We want to make wee wees in the potty!” (Can you tell I’m still in the trenches of potty training? I’ll be rich when I stop buying diapers)
But there comes a time when you start fudging your answer, just a little bit.
“What happened to that bird? Oh, he’s just sleeping…. look! There’s a balloon!”
And we start dodging questions.
“Whats the drink in the big silver shaker daddy brings out every Friday at dinner time?”
“Why do we have skin?”
Or a prime recent example. My son Josh found an Almond Joy wrapper on the counter.
“Who ate that candy?” he asked.
“What? I’m doing dishes,” I say loudly, not looking back at the counter.
“Did you eat it, mom? BEFORE DINNER?!” he asked incredulously.
“Not sure who did,” I said. Because if I had told him I ate it, he’d want to know why-did-YOU-get-to-eat-candy-I-didn’t-get-any-candy-can’t-I-have-a-piece-of-candy-now-what-about-tomorrow?
But a little candy wrapper interrogation is nothing next to the series of questions about subjects that no parent really wants to answer. Birth and Santa Claus.
“How did baby Catherine get here?” asked my daughter.
“She was in my belly,” I said brightly and vaguely.
“No, I mean HOW DID SHE GET OUT?”
“She just did.”
I know, I know. A total cop-out! And yes, I’m sure I’ll take it on the chin from experts and parents who think I should have done an etch-a-sketch rendering of a placenta. But in that moment, I wasn’t prepared. So, then do you get your story straight, circle back around a few days later while your child is playing with Little People and say, “You know that question you had about birth…” Don’t get me wrong, my kids aren’t totally sheltered. They know about death, we talk about religion and I even had to explain politics. (Eee gads!)
I stumbled upon a story in the UK from a few years ago that says parents tell about 3,000 “white lies” to their kids. I’d say that’s in the ballpark. And the biggest one? It’s involving that guy in the red suit, with the white beard who I’m hoping will bring me a new Cuisinart this December.
Even though my nose seems to grow at an alarming rate from time to time, I know I’ll have to come clean once they get a little older. And make sure I balance that need for them to know exactly what is what, with my need to protect them a little longer from the harsh and complicated realities of the world. Like the whole Santa Claus thing.
But they’ll have to wait until they are 21 to find out about the drink in daddy’s shaker.