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Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Times We Lie

Yesterday, in the car, my youngest listed multiple times when she had lied about misbehavior. 

She had:

Scraped the fridge: "You know that little drawing on the side? I accidentally scratched the paint off with this paper clip and then I thought, I can make a drawing, so I kept on going." 

Drawn a head with legs and arms attached on the wall in the bathroom (when she was very little). 
Hid under a towel with a friend and a pen so they could extend the arms and legs of the drawing in the bathroom. 

Hidden under the bed with several children at a birthday party and drawn all over the wall down there with all of them. (More about this later.) 

Turned the fridge and freezer temperature so cold that the ice machine froze. (That one cost us 100 bucks on a service call--we thought the water main was broken) though fortunately, the repairman kindly also fixed something on both the dishwasher and the dryer for free.

I stayed completely mellow about these confessions, for several reasons. 

First: Oldest is the one who usually gets into trouble--though clearly Little One is fully as capable of doing Bad Things, but much better at getting away with it. And Oldest was in the car, listening to Little One addressing the balance. 

Second: Research Has Shown that all kids lie. Even ones who get beaten, punished or humiliated when they're caught in a lie. When children are punished severely for lying, that simply serves to drive lying underground. This may not mean as much when the lying is about who snuck the candy or drew on the wall, but it will mean a great deal when it's who is sneaking out of the house to run around with teenaged friends and possibly get pregnant/drunk/STD's/in an accident.  We have friends who severely punish their children any time they catch them in a lie. With very stern faces, they say to very young children, "We will always love you if you tell us the truth, but we will be very, very, very angry if we ever catch you lying." And, indeed, one of their children caught in a lie is severely punished. 

Their oldest middle child (they have several children) is one of then best and most frequent liars I know, who is often involved in my own child's admitted lies (see above, friend under towel, one of friends under bed, etc.) 

Third: I lie, too. "I have a previous engagement," with quiet and a good book. "I'm sorry, I did not see that email," when I resent the other organizer's request. "Thank you in advance for your prompt and thoughtful action," when I know that the action will be neither thoughtful nor prompt. "I love that haircut you just got," when I think it makes someone look like a hamster, but know they have a big job interview tomorrow.   "I'm sure that he was completely responsible for the divorce," when I know the opposite will never be heard and want my kids to still be allowed to play with their little friends. 

I even use bendy lies, implications, like, "I can understand how you would think you were responsible for your husband's adultery," and the subsequent child she is partly raising, when, in fact, I don't see how she's responsible for his callous choices. 

And we're not even getting into times when we have to lie to the boss because the boss is a controlling disaster and we can't get fired; or the many, many times when our relatives lied for their very survival, during the Holocaust. 

Lying, to me, then, is a continuum, and, indeed, a life-skill. Frankly, it's one I need to learn better. I was once booted from a writing critique group because I couldn't lie well enough. (The leader had pulled me aside and said, "she's not capable of learning to write any better. She'll never learn subtext or how to write dialogue. So when you make those notes, you just make her feel awful. You need to simply praise what she does.")

(Of course, the leader, too, had massive blind spots that needed tender-loving lies. In that case, I failed Lying 101, so out I went.) 

At any rate, as I heard Little One's list, I simply laughed with the rest of the family. When Little One said, "I'm pretty good at lying," I replied, "Well, sometimes we do need to lie in life, but I hope that, from now on, you'll tell us when you do something wrong. Look at us--we're hardly angry." 

"But that's because it's a lot later," said Little One. She may have a point. 

Then, Little One asked if I had ever lied to my parents about things I'd done. 

"Well," I said instantly. "There was the time--I think I was ten--when my best friend and I rode our bicycles far beyond the boundary we had at the time. We knew we could get back in time, and we wanted to explore. 

"Unfortunately, my front tire went wobbly. It wouldn't turn, so I couldn't bike. We didn't have any tools. We were too scared to ask for help.  So we had to run my bike home, holding up the whole front half of the frame, because only the rear wheel turned. My best friend took turns with me, thank goodness. We made it in time. We were exhausted and our arms ached, but we never told." 

And then, oddly, I thought of something else that I never told, also when I was ten. I thought carefully and decided to tell it. "There's this other thing that happened when I was ten that I never told about," I said. "We lived near this big drainage ditch that was kind of like a small river with riparian woodland all around it." (I explained riparian woodland and got back to the story.) We used to play there all the time. Gregson's Ditch. 

"And one time, when I was ten, these two girls, Kelly and Heidi, sisters, they told me they wanted to see my bra. I already had a bra. And they wanted to see it. And I said no. Kelly was nine and fragile, Heidi was eight and built like a horse. And when I said no, they wouldn't let me go. They kept yanking up my sweatshirt. I kept holding it down. I couldn't get away from them. Every time I managed to get Kelly's hands off my sweatshirt, I had to get Heidi to let go of my arms. I was crying."

"That was sexual assault," said my oldest, and I felt gratified that these days, kids know, that they are certain. We didn't know when I was little. Without that announcement from the back seat, I'm not sure I would have realized it with certainty today. 

"Yes," I said. "It was." Kelly and Heidi also pulled down Melinda's pants in her garage and stuck pebbles up her butt, all of which makes me think that somebody--maybe Mr. Ellinger--was doing something he shouldn't have been to his two daughters. In fact, come to think of it, I remember overhearing the parents talking about this, but they didn't report it, or forbid us to play with Kelly and Heidi or even tell us to stay out of their house. How times have changed.

"Anyway. I don't know how long we were down there. Maybe an hour, maybe less. I know that it felt like it was forever. I know that I thought I would never get away. I know that when I finally managed to escape them both and take off--red-faced, huffing, sobbing--my sweatshirt was so completely stretched out of shape that it never recovered. And they probably did manage to see parts of my white cotton training bra, despite all my efforts. 

"And I never told." I said. I'm still not sure why. I felt shamed. I felt besmirched. I felt stupid to have gone to the little paths at the side of Gregson's Ditch with only Kelly and Heidi, even though they had never bothered me before and I didn't yet know about what they'd done to Melinda in the garage. I felt there was something wrong with me that I needed a brassiere while Kelly and Heidi didn't. And I liked Kelly, though I did not like Heidi, who was often physically rough and hostile. In fact, I remember that I kept pleading with Kelly, reminding her of how awful her sister was, telling her I would play with her if she'd just get Heidi to let me go--it was Kelly masterminding this, or so I thought at the time. 

But I thought it was all my fault, somehow, and my shame, which is why I never told. "Do you think that was right, or wise?" I asked. 

"No," said my little one. 

"So I'm telling you this story because I want you to always tell us if anything happens. No matter if you feel ashamed or you're afraid you might have done something to cause it. " 

"It's sexual assault," said my oldest. "Of course, we'd tell." 

But I, with my Gregson's Ditch experience, I am still not so sure. The shame I felt was enormous. And the self-blame. "I will never, ever treat you that way. Because I know how it feels," I said. "That's not something you can ever lie about. Okay?" 

I got agreement, but of course, you never really know. Kids--all kids--lie. 

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