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August 20, 2010

Oh, those lying eyes, as the Eagles would sing. Have had some run ins lately with the old sin, which started me thinking.  Everyone lies. I love when prospective mates haul out the whole honesty card and hold it up proudly for the big 10 score points. Personally, I think honesty is a bit overrated.

Take my kids, for example.  I have been quite interested lately in the social and natural aspect of lying. My kids certainly have not been taught to lie, and they have been socialized well by society and their parents to know lying is bad. I call it fibbing in my house because it seems more kid friendly. I noticed the beginning during potty training, even before they could speak. As the smell of a poopy diaper hit my nostrils, I would march over to one of them and ask, “Did you go potty in your diaper?”

Now, I don’t know why I would ask when I know, but it is a silly mother thing we do to catalogue and rationalize all small tasks of the day. We need recognition, so if there is no one else around, we ask the child. Immediately, the answer would be a negative shake of the head. Maybe “No, no, no,” for good measure.

So, at the ripe old age of 1, my children knew how to lie.

As time marches on, they get more experienced. Just last week, I had an incident with my older son which really perplexed me.  He has always been pretty honest. I try to install the idea that if they tell me the truth, I may get mad at the act, but telling me is the RIGHT thing to do. If I ask him why his brother is crying, he usually shrugs. But if I ask him a specific question and say, “Did you hit your brother and make him cry?”, he will usually answer affirmative, with a detailed explanation of why he had to hit him. But it’s good enough for me.

Anyway, last week we had a difficult dinnertime (more difficult than most) and Jake would not eat. He wanted dessert, but didn’t want what we cooked for dinner. He also had not eaten lunch. I knew he was hungry, so I had to battle between my need to get him to grow, between my need to discipline and send him to bed hungry. Growth won that night. I told him I would make him a turkey sandwich and if he ate the whole thing, minus the crust, he could have dessert.

Now, formal dinner was over, and I was trying desperately to squeeze some writing time in. I gave him the sandwich and shut his door and began writing.  In a little while, he called me, and when I pried myself from the computer I found his door open and my dog, Lester, inside the room going crazy. I looked at Jake with suspicion, because I had a feeling something was up.  “Did Lester take your sandwich?” I demanded. My two dogs are always hungry and my kids eat like they are in prison, with their food tucked protectively against themselves, or very fast before the dogs can manage a way to steal it.  Jake shook his head firmly. “No, Lester didn’t eat it.” I was still suspicious because the dog was chasing himself in circles around the doorway, seemingly looking for something.  So I asked him straight out: “Did you eat your sandwich?” Which he nodded seriously and replied, “Yes, mommy.”

Then it happened.

The dog finally noticed where the scent was coming from (I love him to death but he is not very smart), and with a leap, he knocked over the garbage can, unearthed the full turkey sandwich, and gobbled it up.

This happened within seconds. Jake and I stared at each other, both in horror.  Then my son got a sheepish look on his face. An Aww, shucks, mom, no big deal, type of look.

“You lied to me.” I did not know if I was accusing, upset, or actually admiring at his cunning.

A pause. “Sorry.”

And I knew it was the best I was going to get. So, I did the lecture on fibbing, and telling me the truth  no matter how scared he was.

He reminds me of his father. My husband cannot lie to save his life – thank goodness, this is a good thing. There was a period a while ago when he was desperately trying to quit smoking, and (I thought) had finally succeeded. He was moody and mean for a few days and then he passed through. We went to a party together and I was praising his discipline for quitting, and basically telling everyone how proud I was of him. I never noticed his silence.

The next day, I needed to get something from his jacket and found a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. I was enraged because he had been lying to me. I marched in the kitchen to confront him. “You’re smoking!” I accused, waving the pack of Marlboros in the air like a red handkerchief to a bull. “You lied to me!”

I remember the look in his eyes: typical deer in the headlights. But that man stared at me, stared at the pack of cigarettes and  pretended to be shocked. “Those aren’t mine,” he said.

My mouth dropped open. “These are not your cigarettes?” I repeated stupidly.

He shook his head firmly. “Nope. I don’t’ know where you got them, but they’re not mine.”

“They were in your jacket pocket.”

Silence.  Then the man shrugged and gave up. “OK.” He paused. “Sorry.”

Yep. Like father, like son.

Let’s talk writing lies. I always have my heroine lie about her feelings for the hero. Same with the hero to the heroine. My absolute favorite part of a book is the moment each of them realizes they are in love. It’s such a “Come to Jesus” moment. Sometimes, it’s as simple as having her heart leap when she sees the hero in a vulnerable moment. Other times, the hero needs to sacrifice something big in order for her defenses to crumble. And having men fall is even more fun –  they love pretending it’s just sex and no emotion so the punch is even greater. Lying is important to character growth and causes inner conflict. Sometimes outer conflict.

Personally, I don’t think all lying is necessarily bad, so I am a hypocrite. When my husband bounced a check and told me about the large service fees charged to our account, I ripped him up and down and sideways. For days, I groaned about the money we had thrown away because of his error. The next month, I bounced my own check and received two fat service fees.

I never breathed a word.

In my mind, some truths do not need to be stated, for a person’s survival. In my mind, sometimes not saying anything really isn’t a lie.

But this is a sticky subject. I’m not talking about lying in regards to cheating on a spouse, murdering someone, or causing anyone harm. I’m talking about the little lies that make up our daily life and soothe our stress. Lies of denial, lies of omission, lies for survival.

A friend: “How do you like my new haircut?” “I love it.”

A spouse. “Was it good for you tonight, baby?”“Absolutely.

A boss. “Did you finish that report?” “I’m almost done – you’ll have it within the hour.”

A creditor. “Did you mail the check?” “Yes, the check went out in today’s mail.”

A relative. “Did you like the shirt I bought for Jake?” “He’s wearing it now.”

A child. “Mommy, is there really such a thing as Santa Clause.” “Yes, honey, I promise you Santa Clause is real.”

You decide.

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  1. Wendy Marcus says:

    Heavy topic, but presented in a most entertaining way. When my children were young I had a zero lying policy, because they couldn’t yet identify the difference between a bad lie and an acceptable lie. My older two children don’t lie well. I can always tell. My youngest does it with ease, and about the most unimportant things.

  2. How I remember those days and I also remember my oldest son telling me that I lie all the time because I’m writing stories about things that never happened. I think all my children learned to lie when it meant for them some kind of survival. Janet

  3. Amy says:

    Wow, dinner at your house sounds a lot like mine! My pickiest eater is now sixteen and she pretty much makes her own meals now. Try as I might, I never could get her to expand her tiny repertoire of acceptable foods. Of course, I had plenty of people telling me what I was doing wrong. When she was seven, she traveled with me and my husband to pick up our daughter in China. Emily went FIVE days without eating a thing. Which I thought pretty much blew everyone’s theory that “hey, if you just let her get hungry enough, she’ll eat.”

    Hmmm, those little white lies are kinda important, I think. Especially ones like “you look great in that bathing suit, hon!”

    Hope you’re doing well!


    • jennifer121 says:

      HI Amy,
      You always make me feel better! Dinner is always a challenge – Jake eats nothing and can pick out a vegetable no matter how well it is hidden.
      As for the white lies, please God let them tell me I look good in a bathing suit…I dont’ want to hear the truth!! Hope you are doing well with your revisions!

  4. Yolanda says:

    This reminds me of my friends small children who are brutally honest, except for when they’re about to get in trouble. And you’re right – lying and getting caught = conflict.

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