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Friday, 13 May 2016

#13 On The Lies We Need To Tell Children

Unbelievably, this does not exist

'Oh that's a shame, darling. See I'd love to buy you an ice cream, but when the van plays his tunes, it means there are no more left.'

So goes the urban myth I heard about someone's mum and ice cream vans. In fact, I once quoted this story to a friend right after she'd told me, yanking on a stiff, scratchy jumper, that her mum claimed not to use fabric conditioner as it 'wrecked the fibres'.

Parents and their tall tales, eh, often used to save cash, time or effort somehow. Actually, now I have become a parent I have learned of various other motives for such small-child-deception.

For instance, we have the idea of protecting children from a harsh truth. A moral motive, you might say. To this day I can remember getting all excited, at three years old, about seeing our cat one morning, curled up in the gutter by our driveway with his mouth fixed open in a yawn. In my preschool wisdom I just assumed him to be having a nice rest, kerbside, so I pointed to him and shouted to my dad.

Dad's response took me aback somewhat. 'Where? Oh... No, no, that's not Tim. Nope, definitely not.'
And with that he sped me away to nursery.

I'd know that cat anywhere, I brooded silently. But everything became clearer that evening when I came out into the garden to see Dad gravely pat-pat-patting a fresh mound of earth with the back of a shovel.

Poor Timmy-boy. But Dad had been right, of course; my day thereafter might have been a bit off-kilter if I’d gone in knowing exactly what I'd seen: Tim laying there post-expiry of his membership to the Nine Lives Club.

So we see, shielding children from the truth can be a noble thing, sparing their delicate and innocent souls a nasty hardship. Let's be honest, though, we're more inclined to lie to them when they're just being little bastards. Take following basic commands. So often am I carrying Daughter or lots of shopping upstairs to our apartment and Son is simply refusing to follow suit. Despite my attempts to woo/ threaten him up there, he happily arses about in the stairwell, inconveniencing me and any passer-by.

So? 'Big spider on the landing' it is. And we live in Australia so we’re talking big-fuck-off-sweaty ones. When they’re real, of course.

I lurch upstairs with my heavy load, craning my neck up to the landing, ‘Ooh, better come quick, he’s moving, he’s running away. Quick!’

It’s just as well, of course, that spiders - even big, sweaty ones - are shy creatures. This allows my hoax some plausibility, evident in Son’s disappointment when he finally arrives and sees no arachnid anywhere.

‘Gone’, I tut. I also gently sigh. I might even ruffle his hair to hammer home the fake solidarity, before toeing him through the front door.

And it's not just spiders that disappear in our web of untruths; in our house inanimate objects- namely ones that I don't want sticky mitts on- vanish when 'sleeping':

'iPad sleeping'
'Daddy's phone sleeping'
Hell, we even have 'Peppa Pig sleeping', which calls for an existential belief, if you will, that cartoon characters hit the sack when not being watched. Son seems OK with this, so that's great. I thank Toy Story for weaving this idea into his tiny mind.

Another favourite fib is the 'follow your idol' fallacy. This time I use anyone Son looks up to and claim that they exhibit whatever behaviour I desire from him. Usually this is associated with trying to put something on him; clothes or the like.

'Don't want to wear these? Oh but X wears these all the time! In fact yours are better ones.'
'Y always has his straps done up properly'

And don't think this is just confined to his junior peers:

'I know you don't want to put your nappy on for bed. I know you normally wear big boy pants all day...' (inner monologue: oh shit, I'm running out of ideas)

A visiting Uncle P pops his head round the door. 'Hey, I wear a nappy for bed.'

Shock passes over Son's face. 'Huh? Do you, Uncle P?'

'Every night! Love it.'

Compliance ensues.

One day Son will learn about the necessity of evidencing one’s claims, but hopefully at the same time as learning perspective and maybe how wilful toddlers can be. Or let’s hope he may just have forgotten my porky pies altogether. In any case, they work now and I make no apology for them.

But perhaps fibbing to my daughter is a different story with a different motive still. The scene goes like this: she’s thirteen weeks old and I have, as usual, left her on the floor/ bed for long enough that she starts inconsiderately fussing or crying for actual human contact.

So I feel urged to utter, in a silly singsong voice:

‘Mummy’s coming, I just need to finish my shower / the washing / the hoovering.’ (true)
‘Be right with you.’ (untrue)

Deep down, I know that I am fobbing off my non-verbal baby with pointless noises. I do not need compliance from her; I need reassurance for myself. I feel a bit bad.

One thing’s for sure, though: at least she won’t remember these moments. I hope. And when she’s older, I have a plethora of ice-cream-van stories all ready to go.


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