Let’s face it…it doesn’t take long for children to learn that if they are at risk of punishment and they bend the truth a little, i.e. lie, it keeps them from realizing consequences. As egocentric and selfish as our little angels can be, they can become little masters at nudging the truth to get what they want. If it isn’t nipped in the bud, is it a sign that there are bright orange jumpsuits in their futures? Knowing that little children are notorious fabricators of fiction, should we accept it as a commonality and overlook some of their twisted tales, choosing instead to “pick our battles”? I can clearly remember telling stories when I was little, and, just as clearly, my mom flipping out and exacting a tough penalty. Thankfully, at some point in my maturation, I evolved into someone who abhors dishonesty, sneakiness, and manipulation. Did it happen when I became an independent adult and could do as I please? Was it because I no longer had the need to twist the truth to get my way?
This past Saturday night, I sent Grace to bed at 11:00. After reading my e-mail, I went to check on her to make sure she was all tucked in. The little stinker was laying there with my still-lit iPad (the screen shuts off in 20-30 seconds) pretending to be asleep. I took the iPad without saying anything. The next morning, I told her that she had lost the privilege of using it and my iPhone for the week because she didn’t go to bed when I asked. It was a pretty minor offense, but if there isn’t a consequence, why would she bother with obedience the next time? She said, “Mom, I was asleep!” After demonstrating how quickly the screen shuts off, I said, “Look at me. Do you think I am stupid???” My very literal child said, “No Mom! If I thought you were stupid, I would tell you!” I told her that she might sadly find herself on the losing end of that statement. During my daughter’s swim practice a couple of nights ago , I relayed the story to another mom. She said, “Good for you! I can’t make it more than a couple of hours before I give in and return their devices so I can have my peace and quiet!”
Teaching a child lessons about honesty takes firm tenacity and follow-thru.
A few summers ago, my husband, daughter and I went to visit his family to celebrate the Fourth of July. His dad and stepmom have a lovely lake-front home with irreplaceable towering shade trees that are worthy of a silent prayer for protection during a violent storm. They are very old and sprawling, offering the perfect amount of shade and respite from the blazing sun on a hot summer day. There is a sandy beach that has traditionally been the source of hours of entertainment for high school buddies, college kids, and in more recent years, grandchildren. One child, Cameron, had brought with him little cars that were modeled after the clever characters in the animated film Cars. The kids would bury them and then dig them back up, only to bury them in another spot.
When it was time for Cameron to leave, he was very sad to realize that two of his cars went missing. Grace said she buried the cars and they must be under the sand. From the deck, I looked out as her dad, her grandfather and Cameron’s mom were raking the beach in an effort to find the missing toys. Dripping with sweat, they raked one spot after another while Grace stood by pointing to different areas trying to direct them to the sunken treasures. After 30-45 minutes, they gave up and decided the missing objects would eventually reappear. They eventually reappeared alright… God works in beautiful and mysterious ways.
Early the following October, my husband “suggested” that we get rid of some of the old sporting equipment in the substantial and overflowing toy bin in the garage. There were old footballs and basketballs that were low on air, old baseball gloves and bats, including a Dora the Explorer softball set (it is always a little sad letting go of old toys). I think when I went to Goodwill, I dropped off 10 balls, 3 bats, rubber baseball bases, etc. This toy bin was like the great abyss. When I reached the bottom of the bin, I saw two little toy cars. I would have thought they were remnants of my stepson’s youth, but the cars had eyes eerily familiar to those from Cars. As a matter of fact the one car had “SHERIFF” on its doors. EUREKA…I have found them!!!!
When I came back into the house, I could hear my little angel singing happily in the shower, while my husband was on the back patio enjoying a magazine. When I explained to him that I found the missing cars from Fourth of July, I asked what he thought we should do. (I am a little ashamed to admit, I am still quite impressed with her marked stealthiness. I think I see a bright future for her in the CIA.) He suggested that because there were two cars that she took that were someones favorites, we take two things that she holds near and dear. I thought it was ingenious and couldn’t wait to confront my beautiful little liar.
I went into her bathroom where she was gleefully belting out a tune while gallons upon gallons of hot water wastefully ran down the drain. She was drawing sweet little stick figures on the steamy glass doors. I said, “Grace, do you have any idea who these cars belong to?” Looking like she was seeing a ghost, her smile faded as she said, “No. I have no idea.” I said, “Really? If I were to send pictures of these darling little toys to Cameron and ask if he recognized them, do you think he would say no?” She stepped out of the shower, draped a towel across herself and stood there like a deer in the headlights dripping a small pool on the floor. The dams burst, and she cried, “I am so sorry Mom! I was a lot younger then!” Vacillating between anger and laughter, I said, “Grace, that was only three months ago!” I had to regain my resolve because she did look pretty pathetic. I steeled myself and said, “Hmmmm. Because you took two of Cameron’s toys that he really liked, your dad and I are going to take two toys that you really like. Would you like to help me pick them out, or would you like me to do it myself?” She hung her head and dejectedly said, “I will help you.”
Of course, the items she wanted to give up wouldn’t have made her flinch or leave any impression. I said, “Nope, those aren’t going to be painful enough for you to lose.” Resignedly, she gave me her green puppy; it is her lovey that she sleeps with still to this day. I scanned her room and landed upon the much-awaited, mail-order Geisha Girl Halloween costume that she had proudly draped across her chair. I pointed to it and said, “That is mine.” Still soaking wet with the towel draped across her, she wailed, “NO!!!!!! Not my Geisha costume!!!!! I love it!” I said, “I am sure that Cameron LOVED his cars that you thought you needed to take from him.”
After letting her stew on it for a a couple of weeks, I said, “Here’s the deal…(after doing this for years, I have created quite a keen negotiator…I think I am going to have my work cut out for me). You may earn them back ONLY after you write a letter of apology to Molly, your dad, and Grandpa telling them what you did, and that you are very sorry for making them rake the beach when you knew that they weren’t really buried in the sand. You need to wrap the cars up so that we can mail them back to Cameron with a letter of apology. When all of those letters are finished and in the mail, AND I feel that you are truly sorry, I will let you have them back. If it isn’t done by Halloween, I guess you won’t be going as a Geisha Girl. Until then, they are mine.”
I sent a text to all of those involved, letting them know what had been discovered and signed off as “Swiper’s Mom”. She took her punishment and paid the “fine”. In retrospect, that I found those two little cars in the dark recesses of that toy bin all those months later was truly a gift. Who knows, maybe it saved my little dumpling from a future life of high crimes and misdemeanors.