Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Delaying Lie

I’ve never been a very good liar. But now that I’ve got a nearly-two year old boy who seems to need almost constant attention, I find myself lying all the time.

“See Animal Shelf?” asks Jack.

Animal Shelf is his absolute favourite video of the moment. He must have seen it ten times this week. I want him to find something more creative to do with his time. He’s got loads of toys.

“No” I lie, “The television’s not working today”.

Why should I feel guilty? It’s for his own good. It’s just a little white lie.

“Fruit bar?” he asks hopefully when we go for a ride in the car and he gets hungry.

Fruit bars are a great snack, healthy and easy to take away. We invariably have some in a bag in the car. They’re great for filling up Jack’s empty stomach when the trip out has taken a bit longer than anticipated and we should really have been home for dinner a while ago. If there’s a long journey home and Jack’s really kicking up a fuss, I might let him eat one in the car seat. But the crumbs go everywhere. It’s not a habit I want him to get into for every journey.

“No, the fruit bars are all gone” I say. Another lie.

“Washing up with Daddy?” Jack asks when dinner is over.

Jack loves washing up. It’s not really washing up, of course. He enjoys standing on a chair at the sink and splashing the water around, playing with the bubbles, pouring from one container to another. I attempt to wash up as we go, but it takes three times longer than if Jack wasn’t joining in. It’s a rare treat for when I have the time to mop up and change his soaking clothes afterwards. Today there are things I've promised myself I should get done.

So out comes the biggest lie of all: “Maybe we’ll do it later”.

Of course once the moment is past Jack finds other things to interest him. He’ll go and poke his sister in the eye, play with a bike in the garden or chuck jigsaw pieces around the living room floor. He’ll never remember the half-promise. I hope.

There are a number of variations on the delaying lie: in a minute; in a little while; very soon; maybe tomorrow; another time. But the technique remains the same. Promise you’ll do it later, distract the child with something else, then never do it. I probably use the delaying lie ten times a week.

But Jack has the most amazing memory. He remembers the exact details of a scene from an animation he saw on TV once three months ago, and the name of the friend whose house he was in at the time. How long will it be before he catches me out? “It is later," Jack will say, "Daddy do it now”.

Verbally, he’s already capable of this. He just has to understand the treachery, put two and two together and see his father for what he is: an inveterate schemer, a compulsive con artist who’ll lie to his son for a quiet life.

Does Jack already know I am a liar? Does he hear the TV working when he’s gone to bed? Did he see me put the fruit bars in the glove box?

What kind of an example am I setting to my son? What kind of father am I?

I resolve to be more truthful to Jack. I’ll even stop using the delaying lie. I will.

Very soon.

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