“Liar, Liar. Pants on fire. Your nose is as long as a telephone wire.” These words sung in jest as a child leave me picturing many adults walking around in bottomless disgrace. Lying, whether one wants to admit it or not, is a tricky component of one’s parental wheelhouse. Although the lies are masked behind an admirable sense of love, lying is still lying and eventually children become skillful little lie detectors.
For instance, my seven year old believes in the tooth fairy but has declared that he is staunchly opposed to said fairy flying into his room and disturbing things while he is asleep. He’s quite a fastidious child in that way, and as a result, when he loses a tooth my husband and I have to sleep with it under our pillows instead. With keen precision, our child administers his pillow-preparing process. He takes special care to gingerly wrap the tooth in a tissue and on these nights he tucks us into bed, versus the other way around. The following morning, however, he comes bounding into the room. Exhibiting far less tact, he thrashes our pillows to the ground searching for his loot. Clearly he doesn’t like fairies or at best he doesn’t trust them, but we carry on with this fairy farce just the same.
And so we lie. Crafting a figurative extension cord, lengthened by our tall tales. We lie. Plugging the cord into our children’s psyche’s hoping to buy just a little more time.
The day I decided to be brutally honest with my child was not born out of a pre-planned parenting agenda. It came out of nowhere, likely brought about by sheer exhaustion. One moment I’m digging through various purses to locate two dollars for the tooth fairy and the next moment I am rolling down a hill paved with candor and sincerity.
It started out as a typical Saturday. Chaotic. Noisy. Sun barely creeping above the horizon, yet the kids were already awake awaiting its arrival. By 6:30 a.m. there was a chorus of voices traveling toward me. Questions about the day’s agenda, breakfast menu requests, competing complaints of who did what to whom all entered my room at once. I tried to hide my head under the covers, practicing a skill I had learned from my middle son. “I’m invisible,” my son often says. “You can’t see me.”
But he lifted my cloak. “Mommy. Mommy! You have to get up.”
Like many Saturdays and now even on some Friday nights we often spend our time attending the various birthday parties of my son’s friends. The all-consuming attendance to these annual affairs is something I never even considered before having children. There is a social calendar filled with indoor trampoline festivities, themed shindigs, VIP’s and RSVP’s, where to miss an event feels like a fate worse than lima beans. “Be invisible,” I tell myself, this time burying my face into the rise and fall of my husband’s chest.
“Daddy. Mommy’s not listening to me. She needs to get up because we have a birthday party to go to.”
“I’m invisible,” I finally shout.
“You are NOT invisible Mommy! I can see you and it’s time to get up. You don’t wanna miss the party, do you?”
My words sprang forth like projectile vomit where the dull sense of nausea is finally given a welcomed reprieve.
“Actually, sweetie, I do want to miss the party. Matter of fact, I don’t want to go to the party at all. Quite frankly, I don’t want to go to half the parties we take you to. Oh and the skate park where I’m not really allowed to cheer, or watch or even really talk to you, but instead stand around chasing whatever patch of sun I can find to stay warm, while acting as your water girl waiting at your whims—I don’t really enjoy that either.”
“Babe,” my husband interjects.”
“No, honey, I’m not done. I’ve got more to share with our son.” My husband and child exchange an awkward glance as if neither of them knows what to expect next.
“And when you chose to play the drums I was hoping it would be just a loud, but brief phase. Yet when you started to play them you weren’t just good. You were amazing. I’m always in awe at the musical arrangements you make, at the discipline you show. I’m convinced you don’t have trouble focusing at all. I see you son. I see greatness in you and not just because you’re my kid. When you were born, there were some problems. And as you know, you had to have some surgeries. The doctor’s didn’t know what would happen and they all feared the worse. ‘“Would he walk,’” they asked. No, you don’t walk. Instead, you run everywhere, even when you’re not supposed to. ‘“Would he talk,’” they wondered. And boy do you. Nonstop even, and often so fast I wonder how your brain keeps up. ‘“Would he live?’” Yes, he will! Son you’re a ball of life. A life I am honored to watch grow and willing to water at a skate park, celebrate at a drum show, and chauffeur to yet another birthday party. That doesn’t always mean though that I don’t get tired. Or that I couldn’t use a few more thank you’s along the way. I would be lying to you if I said I wanted to go to the party and today I’m tired of telling lies. The more important lesson is that I’m taking you anyway because weeks ago when you worked so hard to get all the words on your spelling test correct, I promised. In this family, we keep promises. We make sacrifices for the ones we love.”
With that, I could hear my husband exhale. It seems he had been holding his breath through my entire outburst. Was he scared I was going to tell our son about the time we went to Disneyland without the kids and had the best time of our lives? Was he convinced I was going to finally admit to eating hordes of the Halloween candy under the auspices of checking for poison?
While my husband was catching his breath, I was having mine taken away. My son, a notorious one-arm hugger, for he is always in a half sprint somewhere and to hug with two arms would require his feet to be planted firmly on the ground, toppled into me with a huge two-arm bear hug.
Later that afternoon we went to the birthday party. Piling in and out of our car grabbing last-minute gifts, we headed toward a jungle-inspired inflatable amusement park. I would like to think, however, we exited the car a more authentic version of ourselves. In childhood, pretend play is encouraged. In adulthood, however, this pretending can often be taken too far. The pressure placed on parents to maintain this façade can leave a lying mom playing hide seek with her very own identity. By telling my son my whole truth, I get to introduce him to the person who is more than just his mom. In return, I hope I get to meet all of him too. No matter how quirky, or silly or brazen he may be, I want him to know, when talking to me, he can leave the lies behind for the truth will indeed set us free.
Upon arrival at the party our son hopped out first. As we trekked in after him, we could hear his choice words tossed in the celebratory air.
“Happy Birthday, dude! You know my mom doesn’t wanna be at your party, but she came because she loves me!”
“Cool,” his friend replied.
And despite some of the judgmental stares from well-meaning parents yet to discover the freedom in periodic frankness, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I am cool.” Cool beans. Cooler than lima beans.