“Mom, tell me the story of the Sophie who cried 'bathroom,'” I sigh, and begin to tell Sophia, for the umpteenth time, the story I “invented” to teach her a lesson about lying to escape dinner.
I am a victim of my own success.
“Once upon a time, there was a little girl who didn’t want to sit at the table and eat her dinner....”
“…Sophia. Her name was Sophia.” Sophia interrupts.
“Her name was Sophia. And Sophia got a brilliant idea. She thought if she said “Bathroom!” she could get down and go play instead of finishing her chicken.
“She could go read a book…”
“Who’s telling this story?” I ask.
“Okay then. She could get down and go read a book. So she said, “Bathroom!” and her mother, who didn’t want her to have an accident, let her down. But did Sophia go to the bathroom?”
“No she didn’t! She went to the living room and picked up a book and began to read. This made her mommy very angry. Her mommy said, ‘Sophia, if you don’t get yourself to the bathroom by the count of three, I’m going to bring you there myself.’ So Sophia trotted off to the bathroom, but did she have to go?”
“No, she did not.” So her mommy made her go back to the table and finish her dinner. The next night, again, Sophia decided she would rather play than eat her dinner. So after a couple of bites, she announced, ‘Bathroom!” again. This time, Mommy and Daddy were both skeptical—do you know what that means.”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“It means we doubted you. We didn’t quite believe you. But we—I mean, Sophia’s Mommy and Daddy gave her the benefit of the doubt and let her down from the table. And do you know what she did?”
“She ran to the living room to get a book!” Sophia cried out gleefully.
“That’s right. She did. And this time mommy was very angry. And again, she said if Sophia did not go to the bathroom by the count of three, she was going to take her there herself. So Sophia went to the bathroom. But again, she didn’t have to go. And again, Mommy made her go back to the table to finish her supper. Finally, on the third night, Sophia was eating her dinner when she realized she really did have to go to the bathroom. Again, she said, ‘Bathroom!’ but this time Mommy and Daddy did not believe her at all and told her she could not get up until she finished her dinner.”
“’But I really have to go,’ Sophia begged. Still, her Mommy and Daddy would not let her go. And do you know what happened?”
“She had an accident!” Sophia’s face bore a look of demonic pleasure.
“Yes she did. She pooped and peed in her pants, right there at the table. Poor Sophie. She was so uncomfortable. But she had said ‘bathroom,’ so many times when she didn’t have to go, that her parents didn’t believe her when she was telling the truth. And do you know what the moral of this story is?”
“I don’t know.”
“You shouldn’t tell lies, because people will think you are a liar and won’t believe you, even when you are telling the truth.”
“Again!” cried Sophie.
Kevin says she gets it. I am less sure. Still, I tell it. Because stories have a way of boring into the unconscious, of staying with us in ways of which we are unaware. If we tell ourselves a story over and over again with great conviction, over time the story becomes an integral part of our reality.