There are parents out there — you know who you are — who freely, glibly, almost joyfully lie to their children on a regular basis. Behavior modification, comfort, pure and simple fun — all are justifications for these routine lies. They range from “Jimmy Kimmel told me to eat all your Halloween candy” (do a YouTube search for that –there are some heartbreakingly funny videos out there), to “Santa won’t bring you any toys if you pull the puppy’s tail,” to “Yes, sweetie, your purple polka-dot shirt looks charming with those camouflage capris,” to “That green stuff on your plate is elf farts, and if you eat it all you’ll be able to fly! (Oh, how sad, I guess you must have missed some crumbs on your plate.)” Lies, boldfaced lies, and I’ve never truly understood the common propensity toward this parenting approach. It’s one area that brings me perilously close to the brink of breaching my personal life philosophy of non-judgement.
I guess my near-yielding to temptation to judging others might be why I found myself in a sticky situation a couple of days ago: a demonstration of just why parents might feel moved to act in such ways.
We’d had a long morning, and opted to stop in for a bite at McDonald’s so we could finish shopping before going home. Immediately inside the door was a display of the Happy Meal toys: wind-up monster trucks, and Hello Kitty toys. Sofia, who will be two in about three months, adores “meows” and instantly recognized Hello Kitty as such, and began hopping up and down in joy as she shouted “Meow! Meow!” I glanced at the options: a little tin with stickers, and several figures. I could see the tin would be too difficult for Sofia’s little hands to manage, so I resolved to request a figure instead.
After the meal, I realized I’d forgotten to request a Hello Kitty figure. I checked the bag: yes, it was a tin. I carried it to the counter, which was, I was thankful to see, nearly abandoned on the customer side, and apologetically explained the situation. The server was understanding — I guessed she had kids of her own — and did a quick search for a replacement.
Unfortunately, they were all tins. She had just one figure. She brought it to me, shaking her head, as she showed me that it was even worse — it featured an ink stamp on the bottom. “Let me look in the back.” She was doing way more than she needed to, and I was grateful and by now feeling guilty, but she was gone before I could say I’d just take the tin anyway.
She returned in a few minutes. “There weren’t any more Hello Kitty toys. I just found this.” She extended a rather adorable purple, bewinged, single-horned, flowing-haired My Little Pony.
I was torn. I recalled Sofia’s eager bouncing and exclamations of “Meow! Meow!” On the other hand, I couldn’t possibly reject this woman’s hard work to help make a little girl happy. She had had no obligation to try anywhere close to that hard; there was no way I could hand the toy back. I smiled, thanked her for her generous help, and returned to the table.
I handed the toy to Sofia, pasting an enthusiastic smile onto my face. “Look! A PURPLE PONY!”
Her face fell. She pulled her hands back, shook her head sadly. “Meow?” She looked around, as if expecting a cat to materialize from empty air next to her. “Meow!”
I took a deep breath. I gritted my teeth. I drew on my deepest reserves of parenting strength. And then, my friends, I held up that pony in front of my toddler’s sad little face, and I said, in a voice imbued with the very richest sincerity I could muster, “This is a meow. Look! Meow!” I danced it toward her, making highly authentic cat sounds.
The light returned to my little girl’s eyes. She squealed with delighted laughter, startling the nearby diners, and grabbed the purple pony with a triumphant crow of “Meow!”
From then on, we have referred to the pony as a meow. Even Niko, our literalist, was convinced to adapt the new terminology when he realized what was at stake.
And I realized, once again, that judging other parents just isn’t kind. You really don’t know why they’re making the choices they’re making, why they’re in the situation you see. I still don’t get the humor in getting kids to cry as you tell them that Jimmy Kimmel told you to eat all their Halloween candy, but I’m willing to accept that maybe even those parents aren’t actually terrible parents. We all make different choices, based on what our children (and we) need. And maybe what those parents needed after an exhausting Halloween was some side-splitting laughter at their children’s expense. I guess. (No, sorry, I still don’t get that one.)
So next time I hear you lie to your child, I promise, I’ll try a little harder not to judge, as I remember the transformation from devastation to joy that I saw on my own daughter’s face when I told one tiny little lie myself two days ago. Meow.