Lies and Otherwise

Once upon a time, before I became a mom, I believed that I would never lie to my offspring. I believed this firmly, as firmly as I believed that a few exposures to any given food would guarantee that a child would learn to accept it—yea, even love it. Or that a toddler cleverly offered two acceptable choices (for example, that between the red pajamas or the striped ones) would dutifully pick one instead of, say, fleeing the room mightily protesting bedtime. Or that there was never any reason to bribe a child.

But parenthood divested me of these notions. My sons have yet to willingly consume black beans despite the beans’ frequent presence at our table. The “just give them a choice and they’ll automatically cooperate” tactic: futile. And if M&Ms are the key to persuading a four-year-old to swallow his medicine? So be it.

And despite my lofty aspirations, I have told Sonny and Ace things that aren’t true.

To wit:

“Close your eyes, and I’ll push a button so the car will fly over that overpass. It only works if you close your eyes, though.” (My dad used to feed this line to my sisters and me, and we turned out okay. Besides, it’s fun.)

“It’s against the law to whine on your mom’s birthday.” (Don’t judge me. It works.)

“If you walk around with food on your face, the bunnies will come and lick it off.” (Do I get credit for saying “bunnies” instead of “cheetahs”?)

“I guess I’m getting a cold.” (This on the terrible evening of the Sandy Hook massacre, when at bedtime Sonny asked me why my voice sounded funny. Even the simplest honest explanation—“I’m sad because some people got hurt”—would have spawned more questions whose answers I could not give.)

“I can tell always if you haven’t brushed your teeth.” (Regrettably, this is not true; my mom-skill set is incomplete. I can sometimes tell, though, and they need to brush their teeth, right?)

“You can’t have a cookie because the jackals came this morning and ate them all.” (Dinner was being dished up at the time. Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.)

“The class I took on how to be a mean mom recommended never saying yes to anything.” (Contrary to his contention, I don’t say no to everything. Just so we’re clear.)

So it’s true. I’ve lied to my kids. This should probably unsettle me more than it does.

But I am more unsettled by the truths I tell my children. Oh, I believe them wholeheartedly, and I want Sonny and Ace to believe them, too. But sometimes I worry that my actions will belie my words so that Sonny and Ace will regard as lies truths such as the following:

  • God loves everyone. He doesn’t hate anyone.
  • It’s okay, often even good, to make mistakes. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect.
  • Apologizing when you’re wrong is essential and is not a sign of weakness.
  • I will always be there for you, no matter what.
  • You are not better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you.
  • Comparing yourself to others is pointless.
  • Cutting down others is a sign of insecurity. Remember that when someone cuts you down; remember that when you are tempted to cut down someone else.
  • Money and contentment are unrelated.
  • Money and is unrelated to one’s worth.
  • It’s much easier to judge than to show mercy, but mercy ought to trump judgment.
  • You don’t have to be the best at something, or even good at something, in order to enjoy it.
  • If someone needs help and you can help them, it’s your job to do so.
  • You have many gifts.
  • Everybody deserves respect. This means you; this means everyone else.
  • God forgives, and so should you.
  • You are loved—not for what you do, what you’ve accomplished, what you own, what you say, or how you look. You are loved for being you. Nothing will change this.

How many inconsistencies between words and actions will it take before they reject these messages? How many slip-ups am I allowed?

It’s a lot easier to stop threatening my kids with fictional face-licking bunnies than it is to always demonstrate mercy or to always show respect to everyone or to brush off one’s own mistakes. But I’ll try to clean up my act on all counts.

And that’s no lie.

 

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On Finger Flippers and Connect Four

I point Ace’s face toward the sketchy pencil marks on the bathroom wall. “What is that?” I demand. He brightens. “A rhino!”

Sonny’s guitar practice sessions often involve more drama than guitar.

The person who is supposed to provide information for an article is not getting back to me.

It’s officially spring, but this morning’s wind chill was 2° F. This winter season will overlap with next winter; I just know it.

When I cook, I prefer to be unobstructed. This scenario almost never happens.

I’ve been on hold for 26 minutes, being periodically (seven times so far) instructed to stay on the line because my call is very important.

Yesterday, after I had to stop suddenly to avoid hitting another car in a parking lot, the driver of the car behind me leaned on the horn and prominently wagged her middle fingers (plural—what was she driving with, anyway; her feet?) at me. (“It’s okay, Mommy!” said Sonny, picking up on a few warning signs. “Just take deep breaths!” “And count backward from ten,” advised Ace. “Shall we do it together?”)

Patience. I need it—badly, sometimes. And when my (frequent) advice on practicing it is handed back to me, it suddenly seems not quite as easy as all that.

But meanwhile . . .

J is neat and organized, but IImage? Not so much. The state of the house usually reflects my habits.

An hour has passed since I told Sonny that I’d play Connect Four with him in a few minutes.

Occasionally Ace confesses that it upsets him when I raise my voice, and I promise to try not to do that anymore. But I keep doing it.

The bulletin board that Sonny and Ace are waiting to have hung on their bedroom has been leaning against the wall for about three weeks.

I have put off responding to a certain e-mail.

My resolution to be cheerful and lighthearted early as the boys get ready for school has not yet come to complete fruition. (Do cheerfully worded comments count as cheerful if they are delivered through gritted teeth?)

Patience. I demand it of others. Sometimes acknowledging this is my fastest route to offering patience to others.

“Love is patient,” says 1 Corinthians 13, and of course this is true. Why is it so hard to be patient to people we love?

“Patience is a virtue,” says common wisdom, and of course this is true. Why does proving ourselves to Crazed  Finger-Flipping Parking Lot Driver sometimes seem more appealing than virtue?

“Though patience be a tired mare, yet she will plod,” says William Shakespeare, via Nym in Henry V. Why is patience so tired? I don’t know. She’s lazy? She’s overworked? She’s underfed?  What matters is that she plods on regardless.

Patience: may she plod on beside you this week, both coming and going.

Don’t Just Ask

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It’s rumored on the Internet that the average four-year-old asks 437 questions per day. I have a four-year-old, and that number seemed low to me, so I decided to count for myself. The other day as we pulled out of the garage, I took note of the time and started counting.

Why do pigs eat slop?

How does coldness turn water into ice?

Can we get an iguana?

Why not?

Does heaven have air?

Do harpoon makers make small harpoons for kids?

What are those red things on top of chickens’ heads and under their chins for?

Why does the word carpet have a car and a pet in it?

Are there bilge ducks, too, or just bilge rats?

Can God see inside and outside buildings at the same time?

How do T. Rex’s tails help them balance?

Thirteen minutes and 27 questions later we had arrived at our destination. I’ll let you do the math on that one, but it’s probably safe to say that at that, yes, he probably asks 437 questions a day.

And he expects an answer—a satisfying one—to each one.  He relentlessly hounds whomever he is questioning until one is delivered. “Well, can you find out? I need to know! Can we ask an expert?”

This little experiment made me wonder: Do adults have as many questions as four-year-olds? For the rest of the day I was keenly aware of my own questions—mostly unvoiced, but questions nonetheless.

Where did I put the field trip permission slip?

Why can I remember the lyrics to the songs from my fourth-grade musical (“It isn’t hot in the furnace, man, that furnace is cool, cool, cool!”) but not where I put the field trip permission slip?

Why don’t Honest Kids drink pouches have a hole for the straw?

Whose turn is it to set the table?

Did the words “Please take your sock off the toilet flusher” really just leave my mouth?

What is a more helpful response to someone’s crisis than “Let me know if I can do anything”?

How can I best help my kids learn gratitude?

Where is the unceasing public outrage for human trafficking?

Why does mercy triumphing over judgment look like? And why does mercy too often unsettle us more than judgment does?

Evidently I have just as many questions as my four-year-old. The difference: he pursues answers even to the trivial ones, and I too seldom pursue answers even to the non-trivial ones. They are transitory, too quickly fading away as I turn my attention to less important matters.

That’s not good.

What important questions do you have?

Let’s go find some answers.