I caught myself in a lie to my children. Actually, my six year old caught me.
Kenny was taking a bath, and I was multitasking, washing him, then cleaning the bathroom while he played in the tub.
He was pouring water back and forth between empty shampoo bottles, far more entertaining than any bath toys. “Did you know that when Katie and Hanna’s betta fish died, their mommy flushed it down the toilet?”
These were the two girls next door, and he had been playing outside all afternoon, riding scooters with them, in our driveway.
I was scrubbing behind the toilet, a place I don’t always go. I was horrified by my own negligence, how dirty I can let things get. “Well, yes, so did we. . . .”
I looked at his stricken face.
“You said you buried Bloonie. And that's even what I told Katie and Hanna. That we buried our fish. We didn't flush it.”
Bloonie had been our blue betta; I would let his bowl get as dirty as the bathroom, no doubt the reason he died.
I hadn’t forgotten that I had told the boys that: that I’d buried Bloonie. It had been an easy lie, as their faces had been as stricken then, as my six year old’s was now – how could I have told them the truth, that I sent their fish down the pipes?
Kenny was stock still in the now cold bath. One drop of water fell from his wet hair. “Mom, you lied?”
It’s not often I’m speechless in front of my own children. Especially as I make so much about telling the truth, how you will be caught one way or another if you don’t. And here I was: Caught. Trapped really. . . .
I could not confess. I could not admit to the truth of the fact, that I did lie. Instead, I tried to fudge the lie (or the truth?): “Actually, it was our very first fish I buried. And . . .actually. . .I sent your father out to bury him…”
He crinkled his nose. “What fish?”
“Before you were born.”
“You had a fish?”
When we were trying to get pregnant, and I was turning manic with each failed month, I decided I wanted a fish. A fish in a bowl, or one of those small plastic tanks from Petco. Something to nurture (i.e. mother), and it was either that or hermit crabs, as I’m allergic to cats and dogs and other far more cuddly creatures.
Instead, my husband bought me a 20 gallon tank, pump, gorgeous wood stand, the works.
Back then, as I had been in such a warped state of mind, when the first fish in the tank started acting sick, I was desperate to save the little guy. I put him in a jar and drove him to the pet store to see if they could save him. They couldn’t, and we watched him die the slow deaths of fish, when they gradually lose their balance and wind up on their sides, uselessly flapping their fins.
I made my poor husband go out and bury it in the snow.
I didn’t relate all these details to Kenny.
His older seven- year-old brother, Ryan, came into the bathroom, already done his own bath, and Kenny said, “Did you know Mom lied about Bloonie?”
Kenny went on to tell him the cold truth, that I’d flushed their dear blue Bloonie down the toilet. “Just like Katie’s and Hanna’s mom did.”
Now I had to face the stricken face of my extra-especially-sentimental child (who was still missing the chicks they’d hatched in their first grade class, Pepper, his favorite, and cried every night to go visit him on the farm).
In the quiet voice only I would use with them, when I was flabbergasted at something they themselves had done, Ryan said, “You did?” Unlike Kenny, Ryan was not so much stricken by my lying, as by the flushing; Ryan was the one to whom most often we’d preach about how he shouldn’t ever lie, as when he didn’t know how the change from Daddy’s bureau got into his sneakers, or how the Batman Crocs toggle from the Stride Rite store got into his pocket.
Kenny, who only has ever lied about washing his hands after going to the bathroom, can be a bit righteous, and he was in his element now: “She did. She didn’t bury him. And now I have to go tell Katie and Hanna that I too lied.”
I began scrubbing the sink. Searching for words, in vein, as I would those missing socks in the dryer.
Ryan’s lip quivered. “You flushed Bloonie?”
Ok. I was their mother. It was my job to save face in front of my children. With hands on hips now I said, “Listen, who took care of Bloonie? I did. And when the hermit crabs died, it was two weeks before either of you noticed. Two weeks!”
“And what did you do with those?” Kenny asked.
I only fibbed this time, and just a tiny bit: “I did bury them.” Which was dumping the whole sandy tank mess over the deck railing into the bushes. Well, dumping is almost like burying. I mean, it’s not flushing. . . .
Kenny then decided to save me. “Because crabs don’t like water.”
“Yes. Exactly right.” I went on then about how I had flushed Bloonie because fish do like water and he wouldn’t like to be dead out of water.
Ryan leaned thoughtfully on the hamper. "Then where is he now?"
“Fish Heaven. With all the other fishes.” I turned away again, back to the sink. That stubborn toothpaste, how does it always wind up on the faucet?
“And where is that, anyway, Heaven?”
“It’s where we get to live forever,"I said, way too casually and succinctly, another kind of lie, as I don’t really know that I believe in that myself. But I disguised it by moving into utter practical Mommy mode. "Come on Kenny, you’re turning blue, get out of the tub…” It was time to get out of the bath, and thankfully, Kenny launched into his screamy I don’t want-to-go-to-bed mode, and the entire topic evaporated.
Of course, there is no excuse for lying. Especially to your children to whom you are trying to teach the value of the truth. Still, if only to myself in the mirror, I can admit to lying out of sheer love, that maternal instinct to protect your children from truths they may be too young to understand.
Or maybe they aren’t too young. Maybe I am just too protective; I want to preserve that innocence that still allows for them to believe in the unbelievable, as Kenny is able to believe that dragons really did exist – because they had wings, and before cars and planes, that’s how people got around. Riding on the backs of dragons.
But then it was Ryan who had to challenge this “truth,” by telling his younger brother that dragons never really existed, not like dinosaurs.
So Kenny turned to me and said, “He’s wrong, Mamma. Dragons were real, weren’t they?”
So do I tell the truth or tell a lie again? I compromised. I told him dragons were real if you are willing to believe they were.