February 3, 2017
By Ekta R. Garg
It’s getting harder to lie to the kids, but sometimes it’s necessary. I think. The trouble with children is that they’re so observant and their minds are so unfettered by the machinations of society that they’re able to see to the heart of the matter much more quickly than adults.
Or, more accurately, they’re more willing to name the heart of the matter. Grownups want to duck and dodge. We want to turn away before Truth stares us down and demands attention.
Still, adults have life experience. And sometimes those machinations come in handy when trying to avoid a topic with children. If it’s a benign issue and it’s something that will keep them safe, I don’t think it’s so wrong to fib a little.
My first lie came earlier in the week. It resulted more from my stupidity than anything else. Or maybe from not really taking instructions seriously.
I burned my left hand on Tuesday and while it’s healing nicely now, at the time the impact of hot object against skin made me gasp and dash for the sink to hold my hand under cold water. In the normal course of things, a burn wouldn’t warrant so much reflection on my part. I guess, though, I can’t get over the ridiculous manner in which it happened.
You know on the box of toaster pastries when they say the icing will be hot when the pastry comes out of the toaster? They weren’t kidding. It was hot and not just hot but “sear itself to the surface of my skin” hot.
Yeah, I know. I’m a 38-year-old mother of two, not some airheaded college kid who doesn’t even flip the box over in the grocery store before bringing it home. I should know better.
Usually when I injure myself, I really don’t tell the kids…unless it’s something that could possibly affect them. Later in the morning on Tuesday when I had trouble pulling the seatbelt across my body, I knew I wouldn’t be able to wind rubber bands around the ends of braids or help yank leggings over little legs that need to stay warm during the day. I had to tell the girls what had happened so they could help each other and me, if I needed it.
When I brought them home after school, I told them about the burn in a casual way. Ten asked to look at it. Eight wanted to see it then turned her head away in trepidation. Then came the question.
“How did it happen?”
“From the toaster,” I said.
Technically, it’s not a lie. Using the toaster caused the toaster pastry to burn on its edge. Using the toaster made me go to it and pop up the pastry so it would stop burning. Using the toaster led to me holding up the pastry to inspect it and, without knowing just how, causing it to flip icing-side down onto my hand.
That’s when I dashed to the sink.
I didn’t want to tell the kids any of this, however. Last summer after we moved into the new house, Eight had a slight brush with the toaster that spooked her so much she didn’t even look at the appliance for the rest of that day. Surprisingly, Ten freaked a little too. And Ten enjoys toaster pastries for breakfast from time to time. While I always hover as she operates the toaster, I also didn’t want to bring back the anxiety from last summer.
It’s a tough call. When do we let go just enough to give them confidence to grow up while still protecting them? I’m not sure if I understand where that line is.
So I just blamed it on the toaster and then turned the conversation in the direction of homework and after-school snacks and a host of other things.
The second lie came last night, and admittedly this one had much more to do with me protecting childhood ideals than anything else.
On Tuesday (yes, again; what is it with Tuesday this week?) Eight lost a tooth during school. She told us about it in the car on the way home, and that evening after dinner she made sure to put the tooth in a little cup on her nightstand. Because of burning my hand, I completely spaced out on leaving her money that night after she’d fallen asleep.
The next morning she noticed that the tooth hadn’t moved. Because it was my birthday on Wednesday, though, she had enough distractions to keep her from thinking about the tooth too much. She skipped off to school and went on with her day.
I would have definitely left money for her Wednesday night, except that my husband arranged a small surprise party for me that evening. It wasn’t elaborate—some friends came over and I cut into the sumptuous red velvet cake my husband ordered, we all shared some, and everyone wished me before scurrying home to their midweek lives—but I was so touched by the gesture, both on the part of my husband as well as my friends, that I couldn’t really think of anything else that night.
Cue Tooth Fairy Failure # 2.
Yesterday morning Eight woke up and went through her regular morning routine. She didn’t mention the tooth, and when I went to her room later to put something away I saw the little stainless steel cup. My heart folded in disappointment at myself, but she hadn’t said anything during the morning so I thought maybe she hadn’t seen it. In all her effervescence, sometimes my younger child misses details.
I knew I was taking a risk, but I couldn’t let another day go by without the Tooth Fairy making an appearance. So I took the tooth, hid the cup, and dropped two quarters on the nightstand. I’ve never done this before, but I can’t kid myself really. They’re growing up, and eventually they’re going to figure it out.
Last night after dinner I stood in the kitchen cleaning up, and Eight called down to me.
“Mamma, the Tooth Fairy hasn’t taken my tooth, and it’s starting to bug me,” she said. “I looked this morning, but it was still there.”
“Really?” I said. “Why don’t you go check?”
“But I checked this morning.”
“Go look on your nightstand,” I said.
She darted back to her room, and, sure enough, on the crowded nightstand that holds a few books and a bevy of other things she found the two quarters.
I heard exclamations of disbelief. A discussion ensued between the sisters. I could hear all the chatter about how the Tooth Fairy could possibly have shown up during the day.
Eight came back to the landing on the stairs.
“Mamma, are you sure you’re not the Tooth Fairy?” she asked.
“What?” I said, trying to appear incredulous without overselling it.
“Well, it just seems coincidential that the Tooth Fairy would come during the day and that you would tell me to go look on the nightstand. You’re the one who’s home all day.”
(“Coincidential,” by the way, is her new favorite word. I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s not even real. I mean, I’m an author and an editor; I’ll probably tell her eventually, if she doesn’t figure it out for herself first. But she sounds so grown up and so young at the same time using it that I’m just enjoying this last little element of her “babyness.”)
I outlined my day for her. After dropping her at school, I came home and worked on my computer for a while, went to the Y to work out, came home and showered, then left again to visit a friend who fractured her foot a couple of weeks ago. From there I went shopping and didn’t come home until picking up her and her sister and bringing them home from school.
“Okay,” she said, considering this. “But were any of the doors unlocked while you were gone?”
“Any of the windows?”
“It’s winter. We wouldn’t even open the windows, so they couldn’t be unlocked.”
“But it doesn’t make any sense,” she said.
“Maybe you just need to believe in a little magic,” I said.
“But I’m a logical person,” she replied, “and magic isn’t logical.”
I guess I should be happy about the logical part. If she really follows up on the idea of going into robotics or some other sort of engineering, she’s going to do a great job. Logically speaking, of course.
But it’s the absence of logic that I’m trying to get her to hang on to. And that’s getting much harder as she and her sister get older. Which makes it much harder to lie to them.
If I have any skill as a writer—as a creator of stories—I’m starting to think they’ll be tested the most in the years to come.