Last August, after ten years of parenting I learned this simplest of lessons.
‘Now, are you fibbing?’ ‘If you are going to tell lies you are going to have to take time out to think about it’. ‘You know I can always tell when you are fibbing’. ‘If you are telling lies, Daddy is going to be so sad’.
My kids have learned from very early on that I’m not comfortable with them telling lies. It is not acceptable and although I am a long since lapsed Catholic (practicing Atheist as I like to refer to myself) I am still a dab hand at heaping guilt on their narrow shoulders.
They are still young, all in primary school and are blissfully unaware of the number of ‘white lies’ that I employ to get us through each day. ‘Ah,no, they don’t sell ice cream this time of year….anywhere’. The iPad hasn’t been charged and I can’t find the charger’, ‘Your Teacher just emailed me and said if you make a fuss about doing your homework she’ll have to give you double for tomorrow’. The list is endless and ongoing and I now fib at will. If I call it fibbing or a ‘little white lie’ my innate sense of catholic guilt is somehow appeased and soothed. I am, after all doing it for the greater good, aren’t I??
The fibbing started with my eldest child’s first Christmas. She was then still a baby, 10 months old, and no fibbing or cajoling had squirmed its way into our beautiful love affair. Everything she did was delightful and I was her Sun, Moon and Stars and she mine. There was never a need to utter ‘No’ to her and it felt as if we were one and the same person. Yet, that was when we first colluded in the greatest subterfuge of her childhood. Her very first Christmas. It is a mistruth that grows arms and legs before you know it. A beautiful magical mistruth that made our every subsequent Christmas’ truly magical once again for us. We are ‘Santa Claus’ and the sheer joy of watching them open their gifts on Christmas morning is one of life’s great privileges. But guess what? The privilege of watching your children grow and develop means that one day they will, year by year, move through childhood and eventually become an adult. It takes no time. Seriously. It slips by when you are putting on washes, cooking dinner, doing the school run or asking them their spellings. It creeps up on you and before you know it, you are out the other side, looking in.
In August, my daughter came back from a friend’s house and she had already moved through one of those stages without my knowledge or consent! While I tucked her into bed she asked me if I could tell her the absolute truth if she asked me a question. ‘Of course’ I answered but once the question was asked I let it hang there. I was too bewildered to know how to answer. Do I beat around the bush for a while and hope I can fob her off or do I accept that she already knows deep down and I need to come clean? She saw me flounder and since she already knew the answer she said it for me. There is no such thing as Santa, is there? She seemed resigned and very serious as she looked me in the eye. My god she was good!!! She was employing my favourite technique for extracting the truth. The eyes can’t lie. I told her if she didn’t believe she wouldn’t receive but she gave me the look, again, and asked me to tell her the truth. So, I did. The floodgates opened and she bawled crying. She sobbed and sobbed and to my surprise I joined her.
It wasn’t just that she knew the ‘great secret’ but that it was the end of a true innocence. She is crossing over to the next stage in her life. She cried on and off for a month and the enormity of the truth weighed down heavily on her up until the big day itself. It forced her to question truth and me too. We had always brought her up to be truthful so when is it ok to tell a lie and when is it just a ‘little white lie’?
Two days after the ‘big’ revelation I had a handful of letters, that I had written to her under the pseudonym of the Tooth Fairy, thrown back at me in a dramatic gesture worthy of a Golden Globe. “I suppose this is all a lie too!!” was hissed at me. This was one white lie I never wanted to endorse but it became the accepted belief at her school and the movie The Tooth Fairy only made this white lie legitimate. So when she excitedly told me that if you wrote a letter to your tooth fairy, the tooth fairy always wrote back I had to respond appropriately. It happened to her friend twice so it had to be true……Was now the time to come clean about the Easter Bunny too or should I let it go???
I let it go because I know she already knows the answer to that too.
She is crossing over to the other world. Not quite to my world yet thankfully but sadly one with a little less magic. For now, it is her job to hold the ‘great’ secret close to her heart and to help us create many more magical Christmases for her little brothers.