It’s at times entertaining to watch a pre-schooler try to lie their way out of a sticky situation. So endearing, in fact, parents may pretend to believe everything the little tall-tale-teller is saying, just to hear them say it. They’re so earnest and sincere.
Not my second grade teacher, though. Mrs. Smith didn’t take falsehoods from anybody, in particular her son, Tim. One day she told our class Tim had only lied to her once, back when he was three years old. She caught him, and he was so ashamed he never did it again.
Not one kid in our class bought that story. She stuck to her guns. Tim was as honest as the day was long.
A few weeks later this poor guy, now 19, showed up at our class to drop off car keys for his mom. He innocently walked into a room full of skeptical, disapproving seven-year-olds, having no idea of the tale we’d heard. In short order, his face was as red as his scruffy, shoulder-length hair. He didn’t look like a saint to us and we had no problem saying as much.
Maybe we weren’t being fair and he actually was that good. I can’t imagine any child NEVER lying to their parents, but I’m not sure what it said about us kids that we were so jaded about telling — and hearing — the truth.
I was visiting a friend last summer and as I approached the front door, a child about the age of her youngest daughter came running up to me. With hair cropped short, jeans and a team-logo sweatshirt, I assumed it was a little boy, probably a neighborhood friend. It wasn’t. It was her wild child five-year-old girl, who told me she’d cut off her shoulder-length hair the week before. All by herself.
I laughingly asked Pam about it, and she signaled me to come inside.
“That girl’s hair was cut short and straight across the back,” she said in a low, firm voice. “And there wasn’t one single scraggly piece I had to trim. No way she did it herself.”
Right at that moment one of Pam’s older daughters walked by. “We told you what happened!” this one said defensively.
“I know what you said,” she replied mildly, then turned to me and continued in the same low, yet clearly distinguishable to those eavesdropping, voice. “They’re not telling me the truth and it’s obvious what happened, but since no one was hurt, I just punished all of them for leaving the scissors out.” Older daughter walked away.
Pam looked at me and sighed. “I have no idea what happened and I can’t get them to budge on their story.”
No illusions on her part. I don’t think her girls are particularly dishonest or deceptive, in fact, I think they’re fairly transparent. Well, two are teenagers now, so let me revise that: for the most part I think they are, at the heart, trustworthy girls. One of whom probably cuts hair.
When I was young, I was always afraid what would happen to me if I was caught being wrong. That was how I saw it, by the way, being wrong, not doing something wrong. I became a pretty decent liar. I was clever, with a good imagination and even better memory. Fortunately, I got tired of it, physically, emotionally tired, and I stopped well before adulthood.
My parents were not abusive, so I can’t say what it was that caused that fear, probably a more subtle message they weren’t aware of and didn’t intend to send to their highly sensitive child. What could they have done differently? I don’t know.
I’ve said it before: parents, you have an impossible job, but you do it. Hang in there. Believe in your children. Believe in their overall character, not their occasional deeds. Know that lying is something any child is going to do, if not this day, the next, for his or her own reason. Deal with it, of course, but save up a few stories to laugh at when they have kids of their own.