I’ve come to realize that being a parent sometimes requires creating your own version of the truth.
When I was a little girl, my dad provided a running commentary about the dangers of my behavior. He said my skin would turn green if I ate too much pea soup. If I swallowed a watermelon seed, he informed me that it might take root in my stomach and start to grow there. He warned me of that dangers of crossing my eyes in the car because if we hit a bump, my eyes would stay crossed forever. And, according to him, if I didn’t go to the bathroom when the urge hit, I would suffer some miserable but unnamed disease as an adult.
I listened to him with a cautious ear. I didn’t necessarily believe that everything he said was entirely true, but neither did I want to test the veracity. By the age of five, I’d decided to err on the side of caution by avoiding anything potentially harmful. Generally, that wasn’t a bad thing, but there were times my fear interfered with my quality of life.
I feared eating any mushrooms because my dad had told me some mushrooms were poisonous. I refused to even try jerky because Dad said if people didn’t prepare it properly, it could cause food poisoning. And I looked at all greens suspiciously because I had been warned on multiple occasions to never eat rhubarb leaves.
But nothing scared me more than a warning that came not from my father but from another man – a complete stranger who pretended he was worried about my well-being. In reality, he was worried about his store. I don’t remember the name of the store, but I do remember it was a large one in another town and that my entire family was there. For some reason, my brother Sean and I were alone when we spotted the larger the life-sized fake Santa Claus, and Sean dared me to touch its beard. I took on the challenge, reached up and ran my fingers through St Nick’s most famous feature. I was surprised that it wasn’t soft at all. Instead, it was stiff, wiry and apparently off-limits to children.
At least that’s what the store manager told me when he marched over and ordered me to take my hands off Santa’s beard. His tone of voice intimidated me, but his words were downright scary. “That beard is made out of poison ivy,” he said. “It’s made out of poison ivy so people won’t touch it.”
I had no idea what poison ivy looked like, but I knew it made a person itch. And for months, I itched everywhere and was convinced that I had a case of poison ivy. By the time I realized that there was absolutely no way that poison ivy would ever be used as material for a fake Santa Claus beard, the incident was well in my past and I had realized that people sometimes manipulate the truth.
Sometimes, they do it to protect their children and sometimes they do it to protect family and holiday traditions like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. And sometimes they do it to protect themselves.
I never thought I’d be one of those people who lie to protect themselves, but apparently I am.
I’ve always prided myself with being open about any topic with my children. But a few weeks ago, my daughter Kendall and I were having a meaningful conversation about tough issues when she asked me a question that I couldn’t honestly answer. Telling her the truth would open the door to so many more questions - how could I be such a hypocrite? How could I set different expectations for my kids than I did for myself?
And so, on the spur of the moment, I lied.
Now I wish I hadn’t, and I’ve battled with myself over the decision. During this same time, I’ve also managed to get a real case of poison ivy because I refused to let the plant take over my rhododendron bush.
Since I will forever associate poison ivy with lies that adults tell kids, I can’t help but note the irony of the situation.
My daughter, who is oblivious of my lie or my subsequent internal turmoil, thinks I made way too big an issue over the poison ivy. According to her, I if had just left it alone, I wouldn’t be so miserable.
She’s probably right.
But like I said, I can be a slow learner.