Learning The Ropes: Lying To Children

Before getting pregnant, Nathan and I had a lot of conversations about what we absolutely would and would not do when we popped out miniature versions of ourselves.  Although we didn’t yet have children of our own, we obviously knew everything about parenting.  It was oh-so-easy to witness young families in public, look at each other in our knowledgeable and nonjudgmental ways and say, “Oh, our child will NEVER do that.”  Once you have babies, however, you quickly realize you know NOTHING about parenting and all those starry-eyed, intellectual baby-rearing conversations at the dinner table would have been better spent drinking more wine or getting more sleep than filling your brain with false pretenses or ideologies. Truth is, even the best of intentions frequently fall apart, are forgotten, or are altered out of fear, desperation or necessity.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  I think.

To give ourselves an ounce of credit, we haven’t dropped the ball everywhere…yet.  We have stuck to a few of our initial, well-thought-out parenting plans.  In accordance to the hippy parent recommendations, we managed to stick to cloth diapering Hazel from the start and it, in fact, turned out to be just as money saving and tree-huggery, garbage-saving as suggested! For better or for worse, I also faithfully nursed Hazel for 12 months, as I hoped I could.  It was exhausting and physically demanding and socially challenging, but at least it was something  I could proudly cross off the attempt-to-do baby list.  More importantly, we have not let her get eaten by wild animals, we never set or forgot her in her carseat atop a vehicle and drove away, we didn’t give her Mountain Dew in a bottle, and we haven’t been the target of any CPS investigations, so….I think we deserve at least, like, a C+ in parenting so far.

One of my most adamant proclamations was that I absolutely would not lie to my child.  Period.  With the exception of the jolly man in a red suit and the fairy that brings you cash for your baby teeth (although, really, who came up with this creepy idea?), I wasn’t going to feed my child false fluff.  I absolutely was not going to give sugar-coated answers to difficult questions, and I would not lie or bribe to coax her into being a better child.  Instead, I would use reason, patience and whatever explanation was necessary to give her an honest, appropriate upbringing.

Let’s take a moment to pause and catch our breath from laughter.

Here’s the thing.  White lies are inevitable.  Colorful lies are necessary.  And now that our toddler’s communication skills are developing at a more rapid pace than we can keep up, the lies are erupting in my gullet so fast I can’t help but to spew them out.  It seems a 23-month old cares less about common sense and reason than doing what she wants, when she wants, so I have turned to the dark powers of dishonesty to get where we need to go.  Admire some of my more shameful untruths of late:

“If you don’t wear your hat, your head will fall off.”

Not true.  Or, at least, highly unlikely.  Despite explaining to Hazel how cold her head will get without proper covering and that the wind will hurt her ears and that the hat is not “owie” or “itchy” or painful, she didn’t want to cooperate.  Because we had already spent 18-ish minutes trying to leave the house, I turned to the scare tactics of cold weather-induced decapitation and…it worked.  Feeling a rush of simultaneous relief and reproach, I opted to suppress the fear of upcoming toddler nightmares.  Instead, I mentally saved this stumbled-upon threat in my bucket of successful parenting tricks for the next windy day outing.

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Progress?

“Henry Hugglemonster is sleeping.”

And so is Doc McStuffins.  And Daniel Tiger. And The Cat in the Hat. And every other cartoon or TV character she has ever had the luxury of viewing.  Turns out, the little turd is a bit of a smarty pants.  Sort of.  She has deduced that even if her favorite show is not ON, there is always an emergency DVR catalog for the desperate moments of appeasing a toddler meltdown, cheering up a sickly girl, or an emergent need to sit still and away from her mother for 10 minutes so she can prep dinner/clean/make an important phone call/rock back-in-forth in a corner without a wailing child attached at the ankles.  You get the idea. So while Hazel may be aware that Henry Hugglemonster “might be on right now”  (she has no realization of appropriate bedtime, but an innate perception of daytime TV scheduling) or “is there…jus’ push da buttons!” (acute DVR awareness), she is also, fortunately, aware of JUST how much sleep these characters need.  If they don’t get their rest, after all, then they can’t do their show and they can’t be on TV and then won’t you be so sad?  All because you didn’t want them to get their hard-earned rest?  Apparently toddlers are capable of guilt and I’m using this to its full advantage because I am a sweetheart.

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Learning to cope with the duration of Henry Hugglemonster’s nap.

“That’s your front butt.”

Remember the Oscar-worthy flick Kindergarten Cop?  It starred the Austrian bodybuilder turned actor turned Governor of California turned retired politician turned back-to-thespian of action films, Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger (disclosure: I had to look up the appropriate spelling of his surname…didn’t want to do The Terminator an injustice).

Well, anyway, I was all of six years old when it came out and I remember little of the movie other than a scene in the kindergarten classroom where a student blurts out, “Boys have penises and girls have vaginas!” which led to hysteria and laughter among his classmates.  Why do I remember this?  Because being the awesome kid I was, a social butterfly, and a genius who didn’t really understand the true humor/nature behind the statement, I picked up on this socially acceptable quote and RANNNNN with it.  I remember chanting and giggling it in public outings with my father who scorned and stink-eyed me all the livelong day.  But it was TRUE, after all.  And ever-wanting the adornment of my peers, I was convinced it must be a good thing to say because all those kids were laughing and who doesn’t want to make someone laugh?

I don’t want to lie to my kids, and I want them to know the correct nomenclature of human anatomy.  What if Hazel decides to enter the medical field some day?  She should be prepared for her first postgraduate interview and not be held back by the perception that boys are born with “wee wees” and girls with “jay jays” or whatever people say these days (for the record, I nor anybody I know was asked about genitalia in their interviews…).

But I don’t want our daughter to end up like the obnoxious kid in Kindergarten Cop or….well…me.  Hazel, in her innocent and knowledge-thirsty ways, has learned her body parts and points them out with impressive enthusiasm and volume.  So what happened when, during an otherwise routine, pleasant bath time, she pointed to her girly parts and said, “Whus dis mommy?”

I panicked, that’s what.  Unsatisfied with my “Ummmm,” she persisted: “Mommy, whus dis HERE?”  And how did her honest, well-intentioned, medically educated mother respond?

“That’s your front butt.”  REALLY, Erin?  The best word-vomit you could come up with was front butt?  Fortunately she was equally dissatisfied with my response, failed to repeat the term, quickly lost interest, and went back to attempting to expel every droplet of water from the tub via maniacal splashing.

Hazel came to the realization there weren't enough letters to spell out 'How are babies made'

Hazel realizing there aren’t enough letters to spell out, ‘How are babies made’

The moral I have so eloquently highlighted is that despite our best intentions, preparations and hopes for parenthood, there are many things we can’t control and sometimes we’re forced to do and say whatever is necessary to get things done.  Sometimes we lie and say really stupid things like “front butt,” because we suck at coming up with a spontaneous nickname for a child’s nether region.  Sometimes life gives you lemons, and you tell your daughter they’re delicious because you’re a crappy mom and you love the pucker her adorable face makes when she takes bite #1…#2…and #11 of the sour treat.

Blech.  I'm gonna need 3 more of these.

Blech. I’m gonna need 3 more of these.

At the end of the day, I’ve concluded all that really matters is that your child is happy and healthy and knows they are loved.  When Hazel is old enough to realize we’re dirty liars then…well…we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

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