“But, I NEED the red ones,” my son whines.
As usual, as soon as we walk out of the house, one of my kids needs something from inside. This time my son decides that he must have his other pair of shoes. “OK. Hurry and go find them,” I say, annoyed about toddlers and their never-ending particularities.
I don’t get two steps before I hear the agonizing scream coming from inside the house.
“DON’T LEAVE ME!”
My son has panicked, thinking I was going without him, and has thrown his body onto the floor, wailing with defeat.
I am distraught that he thinks I would leave him. Why doesn’t he trust me? Have I ever left this kid anywhere? Have I ever done anything to give him any reason to think that I am not a trustworthy, loving mother?
It saddens my soul that he would feel such instability.
I try to settle him down. I tell him that I am not leaving him; I am just clicking his brother into the car seat. He is not consoled.
I’m peeved that, for no reason, he has stopped what he is doing and freaked out about some non-existent threat. Why are my kids always stalling and causing me to be late? Can’t we just get in the car with any old shoes and drive off?
I am just trying to get out of the house. I just have to get out of this house.
Finally, between clenched teeth, I say to him, “If you don’t get your butt off the ground, RIGHT NOW, and go get your shoes, I AM going to leave you.” His little booty scrambles so fast, dust from my dirty floor flies up into my face, choking me.
I stand up and take a long, dusty breath, sucking in the hypocrisy of my thoughts, telling myself it’s ironic (not idiotic) that I have acted this way.
Then I start to laugh. I laugh so hard I cry, and I pick up my son — who has just returned, lickety-split, with his red shoes — and hold him. “I never want to leave you,” I say.
Notice how I don’t say, “I will never leave you”? Apparently, even with the very recent awareness that my threats cause emotional stress, I am unwilling to part with my highly effective tool for scrambling. (Also, I think it is important to not set the bar too high in case I ever do forget him somewhere.)
I know I should feel bad, but everyone does it. Everyone lies to their kids: my parents lied, your parents lied. (I can hear my parents saying, “So, if everyone was jumping off a bridge, would you jump too?” … Yes.)
Pondering this, I asked some of my friends to tell me the favorite lies their parents told them:
The Classic Lies
“If you sit too close to the TV, you’ll go blind.”
“Stop making that face, or your face will get stuck that way.”
“The crust is the best part of the sandwich.”
‘I’ll Make You Behave’ Lies
“Every homeless person became that way from getting C’s on their report card.”
My mom told us if we had premarital sex we would die. Just die.
My dad told me not to get out of bed at night, or the monsters that lived under my bed would reach out and drag me under. (When confronted about this, my father said: “You are such a liar … now your nose is going to grow.”)
“If you act goofy, we are going to drop you off to live at the Indian’s house” (and then they would drive me by a really scary mobile home.)
My mom told me she had seen someone’s arm get ripped off from him hanging it out the car window.
‘Avoiding the Truth’ Lies
“We took your dog Muffy to go live on a beautiful farm, in Canada.”
My parents kept buying replacement parakeets, and telling me it was “Birdie” even though it would look and act different, instead of telling me the bird had died.
My mom told my sister that hookers were ladies that made rugs on the side of the road.
‘Just to Be Funny … I Mean Cruel … I Mean Funny’ Lies
People would say, “Oh, your kids are so cute. Can we have them?” and my parents would reply, “Yes!” It scared me to death and gave me nightmares.
“Only prostitutes wear black.”
“If you swallow those watermelon seeds, watermelons will grow in your stomach.”
My dad told my brother that the brown spots on the banana were the best part. My brother was 23 before he finally said, “Well, I don’t like the brown part best,” and it dawned on him that my father had been lying.
My mom used to tell me Chinese duck sauce was made with “duck feces.” I still have a hard time eating it.
The truth is: I will tell my kids anything in the moment to get them to do what I want, or to just try and shut them up, or to get them off a subject. I don’t think twice about my kids remembering what I say, analyzing it and taking it all in as truth.
But I shouldn’t lie, so I’m sending myself to my room, with no dinner (‘cept a lowly bottle of wine), to think about what I’ve done.