There is an indoor play place here in Shanghai where my kids love to go. Nicknamed, the “slide with the balls” (astutely, as there is slide that dumps into a shallow pool of balls), its is almost always the first place named when asked, “what do you want to do today?” I imagine it’s like what the roller rink was to my parents, or what a clothing store is to my kids. It’s not the worst place in the world but certainly not high on my list of things to do. It gets crowded. It gets hot. And it almost inevitably leads to tears in much the same way a full night’s sleep can bring a new mother to tears. It’s just too much. But not going sometimes leads to tears too. So, what’s a parent to do? Lie. Now my kids know only to ask if it’s raining out and even then, sometimes “the slide with the balls” is still mysteriously closed. “Sorry, kids, I’d love to take you but they’re not open today.”
Lying: It’s so easy and so convenient. You want to try soda? Oh, sorry, but you won’t like it. It’s spicy. More batteries for all you beeping and singing and disco-playing cars? Sorry, all of the stores, in all of Shanghai, just can’t seem to keep a supply of batteries on their shelves. We’re not allowed to have a dog. Sorry. The playground 4 blocks away is wet, but I think the one right downstairs is dry! That one is just as good. (It’s not.)
But I’m starting to feel a little guilty. Not guilty enough to stop but guilty enough to seek affirmation from you, my sympathetic reader. All parents do it, right? To be clear, I’m not talking about big, “let’s talk about your real father” lies but little ones. Harmless ones. Harmless, right? It’s for our own survival and our kids protection. It’s a win-win.
I’m worried though, I’ve started down a slippery slope. The majority of my little, harmless, white lies are due to my own laziness or preferences, not out of some altruistic notion that I’m protecting them (like I once tried to convince myself). And it’s kind of the easy way out. Most of the time lying is the easiest way to avoid a meltdown, but maybe it’s better to endure the meltdown and speak to them honestly. But at two and three, when they hold up a can of soda at the grocery store, it doesn’t seem worth it to get into a discussion about the evils of refined sugars and clever marketing. So I tell them it’s spicy and they go on to ask for something else. Usually something really nutritious like jelly beans.
At some point, I guess the meltdowns stop and you can reason with them a little more successfully. But then, does my excuse change? Is it still easier to lie to them because then we don’t have to have a 20 minute (albeit rational) conversation in the candy aisle? As they get older, I’m worried the lies will grow bigger and grayer. Because isn’t that kind of how lying works? You start innocently enough but then have to keep the charade up, so you lie some more and more until the cycle continues and your son never speaks to you again?
Soon they will be smart enough to understand that if the playground downstairs is dry, then all those in our neighborhood are also dry. And then what? I’m going to be caught. They’ll be smart enough to wonder if soda, is in fact, really spicy. I’ll have to decide whether to delve deeper into the dirty pit of lies and pull something out that will temporarily satisfy them. Until it doesn’t and I have to dive still deeper, or fess up and tell the truth. At what point is it too late? At what point do I become the mom who cried wolf and completely lose my parenting cred?
So I’m going to start confronting the meltdown a little more with the truth. Probably not in the middle of aisle three, but I can certainly do it at home. Occasionally. Isn’t there something kind of triumphant about staying strong in the face of crocodile tears? Tantrums can be the worst but it always amazes me once it’s over how quickly kids move on as if nothing ever happened. You’re left feeling frazzled and slightly traumatized while they nonchalantly and giddily move on leaving you to wonder, “did that really just happen?” (And then you swear you have to remember this and promptly forget.)
So I guess I’m off now to break a couple of hearts by explaining Santa is not real.
Ha! Kidding. It’s April and we still regularly visit the NorthPole.com…I’m not completely soul crushing.
And P.S.: There are 258 days left until Christmas, in case you were wondering.