Stretching The Truth

Maxine Clarke admits to using deception as a parental ploy.

I remember the first time I realised that my mother could be deliberately dishonest. I was only about seven, but the exact details are almost as clear in my mind as if it happened five minutes ago. I was sitting in the back seat of our car next to my friend Tania. Tania, five at the time, was telling me with great authority how when a man and woman loved each other, God made a baby grow in the woman’s tummy, and the doctor cut the baby out.

Eighteen months older and a regular know-it-all, I proceeded to instruct her on the finer details of reproduction and childbirth.

My mother took one look at Tania’s stricken face in the rear-view mirror and went into damage control, saying, “Don’t be ridiculous, Maxine. Where did you get that idea from?”

Mum probably forgot about the incident almost as soon as it was over, but I was totally bewildered. I knew that what I knew about baby-making was the truth, but I also knew my mum wouldn’t lie in a million years… would she?

Recalling that incident, it’s with great regret that I have this confession to make: I lie to my child. And I’m not talking about Santa Claus. I mean everyday run-of-the-mill truth elongation. I’m not dishonest for the thrill of it but for an almost more unthinkable and selfish reason: to make my life easier.

My son Mali has just reached the age where going to the supermarket has changed from an enjoyable adventure to a flurry of grabbing hands, pointing and hopeful puppy-dog-like stares backwards into the trolley, listing treats preceded by the word ‘more’ (‘more popcorn please,’ ‘more biscuits please…’).

I was in a dilemma every time we needed to pop down to the shops. I’d explain to him that we weren’t buying any toys today, and he’d look back and forth between me and the desired goodie, tears welling in his eyes as he struggled to understand why I would deliberately deny him something he so passionately desired. ‘No’ just didn’t seem to cut it, and any attempt at an explanation just confused things further.

Then I cottoned on to this whole fibbing thing.

I watched in wonder as other mothers used such tantrum-tackling throwaway lines as, ‘Not today, dear. Maybe tomorrow,’ and ‘I think we already have some of those at home’, then started trying the lines out myself, marvelling at their effectiveness. I was soon adding to the repertoire, with winners such as, “Oh no! This shop is all out of biscuits.”

The deception soon graduated from fibs to actively fraudulent behaviour. At a party we attended several months ago, all of the children were handed Freddo Frogs. Unable to intercept the gift before it was placed in Mali’s hand and anticipating the hyperactivity it would cause, given his limited exposure to such treats, I opened the packet, discreetly broke most of the Freddo off so that only the eyes remained, and returned it to my son.

Far from realising that he had been short-changed, Mali was so delighted with his sliver of chocolate that for months, he told anyone who would listen how he ate “chocolate frog eyes from the packet”. I found this side-splittingly hilarious, repeated the story several times, and even bought him another set of ‘chocolate frog eyes’ from the local newsagent a few weeks later. But when my mother-in-law pointed out that he would eventually discover what was actually in the packet, it really hit home.

Like any deception, it was okay in the beginning because I was always one step ahead of the game, but then the unthinkable happened.

The acorn outgrew the tree.

My son is obsessed with stickers. We buy them from two-dollar shops, 10 sheets at a time by the fifty-cent A3 sheet, and Mali knows that we do. He hasn’t quite caught on to the concept of stickers being a luxury item and peels them off the backing at high speed, slapping them down one after the other until his page resembles a psychedelic mess, then immediately calls out for more.

Last week, I presented him with a sheet of stickers, and he ploughed through them with his usual enthusiasm. When I told him they were ‘all finished,’  he rolled his eyes, sighed, and casually strolled over to my handbag to extract another sheet of stickers. My heart skipped a beat. Oh. My. God. The world as I knew it was over. And I was almost relieved.

From now on, I will try to explain my decisions honestly, and if an explanation seems futile, ‘No’ will just have to be enough. And come tantrums or tears, I’ll deal with the consequences… though hiding the cookie jar and avoiding the biscuit aisle are another thing altogether, aren’t they?

Illustration by Serena Geddes