The Honest Truth about Lying

As the fair days of summer came to an end we loaded up the minivan for one last hurrah, venturing hundreds of miles from home into the Pennsylvania wilderness, trading the ease of electricity for the company of kindred spirits, and leaving the routine for the unknown.

We arrived at our campsite and breathed in the outdoors. Ella and Pax immediately set out exploring the paths between the tall trees, whose tops stood higher than your neck could bend to see. The roots and rocks jutting out from the hard packed dirt gave even the ground an other-worldly feeling and the sound that stood out the most was the silence.

I stood and stretched my limbs for only a few seconds.  Dusk was fast approaching and my priorities were clear.  I had to get the fire going so we could have dinner ready for when our friends arrived.  Then I’d have to set up our tent before unpacking the rest of the unimaginable mess of things crammed into the back of our car. The children joyfully took on the task of searching for sticks to add to the kindling and kept this task up long after the flames had caught hold of the logs I’d cut from the deadwood on the forest floor.

“The answers to life’s questions are contained somewhere in a camp fire, if only you sit long enough to find them.”

~James Rohl (Portland Dad)

When our best friends arrived with their kids, it let out even more excitement. I imagine there’s nothing greater for kids than to be exploring a new place with old friends who they haven’t seen in a long time.

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The night came on quick and dinner had never tasted so good. Soon it was bedtime for the little ones and we all split up to tend to our own. This moment brings the most anxiety for me when we go camping.  I’m keenly aware that the only possible barrier between my noisy children and the restful sleep of my neighbors are two thin walls of fabric.

So as a precaution I decided to keep one part of our normal routine and read them a bedtime story.

“The wild is always revealing…”

~Bear Grylls

We struggled a bit to subdue their excitement and get them settled into the tent and into their pajamas. Finally, when all of the bed situations were figured out, I found “The Cat in the Hat” from the books Erica had grabbed to keep them busy in the car. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one so I kinda forgot what it was about. We dove in with flashlights illuminating the pages.

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On a boring, rainy day a cat visits Sally and her brother with all kinds of “fun” things to do, including releasing Thing 1 and Thing 2. The fish does not approve as the house quickly falls into ruin, warning the whole time of mother’s impending return. And sooner than the kids would like, mother does come home and it’s a frantic race to clean the whole mess. Just as the last umbrella or plate is put back in its place, mother walks through the door and asks “How was your day?”

And the big question is, “What would you say?” or, as Dr. Seuss so cleverly added, “What SHOULD you say?”

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By this time I had gotten so curious to how the story would end, I was a little disappointed at the cliff it left me hanging from. So I turned the question to my daughter. “What would you say?”

“Well” she started, and with hardly a hesitation quickly let out, “I would probably lie.”

Her comment floored me! First, I hadn’t come into this story-hour with any idea we’d wrap it up with a deep discussion. I was tired from travelling and setting up camp. If it wasn’t for the bag of marshmallows calling my name I probably could have joined them for bed right then. But second, in all six years of her life I have only once or twice ever even suspected her of a lie, so I was shocked to discover her true attitude toward deception!

My heart sank, I felt as if she had just told me a lie. I was disappointed and confused.  Where did all of our parenting go wrong? Why did she feel like it would be OK to lie? I really had no words, so I had to ask her why?

“I wouldn’t want mom to be mad.”

Made sense.  And actually, yeah, she is the kind of kid who does NOT want to rock the boat.

“What about when mom sees the bent up rake? Or when she notices the scratches on the dish?”

“Well…then I would probably say that a really nice cat came by…”

I chuckled. That’s when it hit me.  This wasn’t a parenting failure, but a huge  success. She was being completely honest with me about what she would do in that situation.  I was relieved we were having this talk now, at the age of 6, before she was put in a situation much worse than what was in the book. I was grateful she was being so honest about her fears and about how difficult the truth might be to say.

We did end up having a heart to heart conversation that night in the tent.  It wasn’t a lecture.  Instead, I thanked her for telling me what she  really thought. I told her we still might have to discipline her if she does something wrong, but now she knows that lying would only make things worse.  I want her to always know that whatever she does, or whatever happens, we will always be proud if she tells us the truth.

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