Sunday, August 26, 2012

Careless with the Truth

Kevin’s grandmother had a saying he invokes from time to time.  (He says it with the same Southern lilt that she must have had.) 

“Now, don’t go getting careless with the truth.”

It was an admonition to a lying child, or a gentle chiding when someone said, “I’m fine” (and clearly wasn’t). 

Kevin’s been saying it a lot more, of late. 

Oh not to me.  I am a terrible liar.   

I feel a compulsion to be honest, even when it’s in no one’s best interest for me to do so.  Most of the time this involves blurting out an opinion, thought or feeling, rather than keeping it to myself, or offering up a polite, innocuous comment.  Like the time I told the high school valedictorian that I thought his speech was pretentious.  Okay, maybe I did, but did I really have to tell him?  I still cringe at the thought.  Kevin calls it my “will to truth.”  That’s generous.  I think I simply lack a filter.

I have long been wary of lies.  From what I observe, once one lies, the lie takes root and grows all up all around the liar, like kudzu; the initial lie requiring more and more lies to obscure the truth, until the liar is hopelessly entangled in his lies, and ultimately caught. 

But some people around here aren’t merely careless with the truth.  In fact, they are very very good at manipulating it. 

Coming back from our trip to DC, Sophie announced that she was hungry.  This was no surprise to me, as it was already an hour past her bedtime and all she had for dinner was half a bag of pistachios. I had no food in the house, so we made a pit stop at the local grocery store to pick up a few essentials.  This was after a long day at the zoo (with my broken foot, before I knew it was broken), and I wanted nothing more than to go home and lay down.  As I grabbed a carton of milk off the shelf, Sophie complained that she had a stomachache and had to go to the bathroom.  Silently, I cursed the pistachio nuts. 

"Just hang in there a little longer, kid."  I told her.  "How bad do you have to go?"

"Just a little bad.  Not a lot bad,” she told me.  So I limped to the check out, got everything in the car, and headed home.

A minute into the car ride home Sophie tells me, "Mommy, I just peed in my panties."

I looked at her in the mirror, "You're kidding, right?"

"No mommy, I really did.  My underwear is wet and so is the seat."  

Now I was picturing having to give her a bath, feed her, and spend the rest of the evening cleaning the car seat.  I lost it.  

"Sophie, you couldn't hold it just three more minutes?"

"I couldn't mommy!  I really had to go!" She insisted.  

"Soph, if you had to go that bad, you should have said so in the store."

"I didn't have to go that badly then."  I felt guilty for not taking her when she asked, so, to assuage my guilt I continued to rant and lecture her about holding it and not waiting until the last minute.  

We pulled into the driveway. I got out of the car, and leaned into the back to survey the damage.  

Sophie grinned at me, "I was just joking on you, Mommy."

That was the first lie.

The second was more harmless, but equally convincing.  We were in Wegman’s having dinner of supermarket sushi.  Sophie ran to get a spoon to dig into her rice.  The spoons at Wegman’s are individually wrapped.  Sophie came back with a naked spoon.

“I found one without its wrapper!” she announced smiling, as she plunged it into her brown rice.

Kevin and I cried out in union, “No, don’t use that!” 

Sophie looked at us slyly.

“I was just joking on you guys.  I took the wrapper off and threw it away.”

Oh she’s good.  She’s real good. 

The thing about it is, she’s not lying about how many cookies she’s had or whether she broke something.  She’s fibbing for the fun of it.  To get us going. 

Part of me admires her ability to dupe me.  She’s a true actress.  But another part of me wonders, why does she get so much pleasure for teasing me in this way?  And if she’s this good now, just think how convincing she’ll be when she’s sixteen:

“We’re just going to be at Leah’s house.”

“I already ate.”

“Of course, I use condoms mom, I’m not stupid.”

“We’re just friends.  He’s like thirty or something.  He could be my dad.”

All the time looking at me with those round blue eyes, not a muscle twitching, a reassuring smile on her lips. 

I’m catastrophizing.  More likely, lying is simply a new skill.  A sudden realization that one can manipulate the truth, without a care.  The horizon of her cognitive ability expanding, freeing her from always having to report things exactly as they have happened, and allowing her to invent other possibilities.  Perhaps she is realizing that one can play with truth.  It can be stretched; it can be spun. 

This awareness will shine a new light on her imagination:  It is the advent of tall tales.  The beginning of fiction. 

Perhaps it’s not so much a carelessness with the truth as a carefreeness. 

Doesn’t mean that I won’t still call her on it. 

1 comment:

vivian stern said...

Wow!! Melissa - I love the perspective.... and I love the saying! I'm going to try it... After 7 years of 'Stop lying to me!!' - the sweet phrase may at least confuse him for a minute!! (He's a little too creative a little too often.)