The Twenty-Ninth Chart

February 24, 2012

By Ekta R. Garg

The night before Valentine’s Day, I lived every parent’s nightmare: the first intentional lie.

In hindsight almost two weeks out, I realize now every child experiences what happened and that it’s one of the ways kids test their limits as well as sort out for themselves what is right and wrong.  But the night it happened I saw visions of myself a decade out, and none of those visions was a positive one.

The entire situation started innocently enough.  I was in the kitchen finishing my preparations for dinner when I heard the beginnings of a tiff.  As Five and Three get older, they’ve learned how to push one another’s buttons and have arguments at least three times a day.  That amounts to about 50 percent of the time they spend together.  Of all the fights they have, they’re still young enough that those fights resolve themselves in the form of giggles and silly words.  But sometimes they require adult intervention, which they don’t hesitate utilizing without a second thought.

And so, on that Monday night, Three ran into the kitchen to tattle on her big sister.  The girls had acquired the cards to their Memory game (the Disney Princess version,) and according to Three’s complaint Five had colored on one of the cards.

“No, I didn’t!” Five protested immediately.

I have no idea why, but I questioned the validity of her claim.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” she repeated, shaking her head vigorously.

Something told me she didn’t want to get in trouble and wasn’t telling the truth.  I asked the girls’ grandfather what happened, but unfortunately he hadn’t seen the event.  I asked Three again if she actually saw Five color on the card, and she confirmed she did.

Three isn’t old enough to lie yet, although considering her spunky nature I wouldn’t be surprised if she tells a few clunkers when she gets older.  For the moment, though, I knew she was still young enough to report only on what she actually saw.  And Five was old enough to deny it if didn’t favor her.

I gave Five several opportunities to come clean, and yet she insisted she hadn’t colored on the card.  Despite her repeated pledges to the contrary, something in her face told me she was lying.  Her cheeks turned pink, and I noticed a slight shift in her eyes that alerted me to what really happened.

By this point I wasn’t ready to ignore the situation either.  This was no longer about coloring on the Memory card, which I didn’t really care too much about to begin with.  It was about the principle of the matter and driving home the fact that lying would not be tolerated.

I have a folding stool in the kitchen to assist my vertically challenged self when I need something in one of the higher cabinets.  I also use it as a time out seat in a pinch.  The girls love to come visit me in the kitchen, but they hate sitting still for more than a few minutes.  On more than one occasion I’ve instructed one of them to unfold the stool, place it against the wall, and sit on it.  I don’t allow any talking, and the culprit must sit still until I tell her she is free to go.  The daughter in question usually squirms and asks at least once when she’s allowed to get up, and I have to play bad cop and remind the guilty party of her crime and why she’s on the stool in the first place.

I directed Five to take out the stool and told her to think about what she had to tell me regarding coloring on the card.  When was ready to tell me about what happened, I said, she could get up.

She sat for a good amount of time, longer than she normally would.  I think she knew she would get caught eventually, and she’s always told me things.  But this time around, for whatever reason, she decided to lie.  She made the conscientious choice not to tell the truth.

After several minutes of reading my stern looks, Five finally stood up and told me she was ready to tell me what happened.  And she confessed to the infraction.  She had, in fact, colored on the card.

I let her know right away that I was more upset by the lie than her coloring on the card, and I alternated between the harsh looks and lecturing.  Lying was not allowed.  Period.  And her father would have plenty to say on the matter when he came, believe you me.  Hadn’t I told her time and time again that she could do the worst thing in the world, and it wouldn’t matter as long as she came to me and told me about it?  That I would always love her because I was her mom and she was my daughter, and nothing she could do would ever make me mad if she was honest about it?

I imposed Level 1 punishments—you know, the ones that go into effect immediately—and after dinner sent her straight to bed, forbidding her to read before going to sleep (a coveted activity for both girls.)  When my husband walked in the door, I allowed him to come in all of four paces before telling him what happened.  The girls had already gone upstairs with their grandfather to brush their teeth before bed, and my husband jogged up the stairs to help and talk to Five about her wrongdoing.

Meanwhile I stood at the sink, washed dishes, and imagined the worst.  I saw myself ten years from now, the unknowing victim of many lies.  I saw Five as a teenager, sitting with her friends and mocking my stupidity as I bought one outrageous lie after another, allowing her to get away with the worst possible transgressions imaginable.  And as a writer—and a onetime Lifetime junkie (during my own teen years when Lifetime wasn’t so sleazy; I’m since completely rehabilitated)—my imagination knows no bounds in conjuring the most awful situations.

In my own defense, my fears do have some basis in fact.  As an undergrad, I knew several girls from my hometown who also attended the same university.  I wasn’t good friends with any of them by any means, but owing to the etiquette rules that govern Indian social interactions and the fact that we were all from the same small town, I had to ride home from school with them once or twice.

I remember one ride in particular.  It included driving on the wrong side of the two-lane divided highway, much to my fear and the girls’ high-pitched giggles.  But the thing that struck deep into my heart and stays with me to this day was how the girls mocked their parents.  At the risk of sounding discriminatory, these girls were not scholars by any means.  They were typical college students: partying three or four nights of the week, sliding by in their academics, and showing up to class when the mood struck.

We were driving home on a Friday afternoon, and the girls were laughing about how they would tell their parents they were up late studying when in fact they had been out the night before (College Night on most campuses across the country) partying and drinking.  And their parents wouldn’t have a clue, would, in fact, believe their stupid lies.  Making their parents stupid in the process.

I felt shocked.  How could these girls deliberately deceive their parents in this way?

Okay, I’m not saying I’m a saint.  Yes, I’ve lied to my parents, but those lies have usually been for harmless things: surprises we were throwing them or hiding the fact that two minutes before they called I had been crying, saying instead that I had a cold or that maybe the phone reception was lousy.  I would never knowingly deceive my parents with any malicious intent whatsoever.

So on that night when Five told her first lie, I saw myself in the future and as the parent of a college student who lived on a campus three, four, or more hours away and who was the ruler of her own time.  A college student who could tell the truth or lie at will and who would be the only one to know whether she was accurately representing herself to me.  A college student who would know full and well that I’d have to take her word for it.

Did I mention my imagination is alive and well?

My husband tried to calm me down and succeeded somewhat, but I still felt angry at being deceived and scared that she’d do it again.

The thing is, though, that Five is generally a good kid.  I can get angry at her for something, and she is immediately (genuinely) contrite.  So now, almost two weeks after the incident, I know she probably won’t lie again to me for a while at least.  And if she does, she’ll know fully well how I feel about it.  And that a second infraction will reap serious results.  Much more serious than sitting on a stool in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, I have to find a way to give her the college experience all from the comfort of home so she can’t go driving on the wrong side of the road or attend College Night.  Anywhere.

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