"Mommy, I tried my applesauce today!" my four-year-old says, climbing in to his car seat.
"Wow, Gideon, that's great!" I respond, sounding like a member of a children's theater troupe. Only I'm not acting. Whenever either of my boys voluntarily eats anything that isn't bread or cheese I practically dance a jig. My older boy, who is eight, eats apples regularly now, crisp only please, and berries when they are buried in whipped cream. But the pre-schooler is on a white-food-only diet, except for brown chocolate kisses he'll happily scarf down by the handful. So his being adventuresome enough to try applesauce at lunch without me prying his mouth open is... big news. For the 45 minutes it takes us to drive 20 miles to our house, I feel hopeful that maybe I haven't ruined Gideon and his older brother Gabriel by letting them get away with not eating peas.
Imagine my disappointment then when we get home and I open my son's eco-friendly reusable snack bag only to find the foil top of the applesauce sealed. It wasn't just that he hadn't touched the fruit mush, no, what sent a shiver up my spine was that he lied about it. And so shamelessly. My mind immediately flashed forward 14 years, he's 17 and it's 12:30 am, his curfew is midnight and he comes stumbling in the door smelling like a fraternity basement.
"Have you been drinking, Gideon?" I ask.
"Mom...pfft....no!" he says, swaying until he finds a doorframe on which to anchor himself.
Next I see him at work. Having been raised by two artists, of course he's become an investment banker, only he's not at work, he's in a courtroom.
"Mr. Modisett, did you pass the knowledge that Widget Dreamer was going to be taken over by Weir Betr, Inc. to one of your buddies from Drained-My-Parents-IRA University?"
"No, Sir, I did not."
"Really, because we have e-mails here saying otherwise."
My mind rushes further ahead, Gideon and his wife are standing outside their home. She's pointing to his phone/computer/TV/car crying.
"Are you having a relationship with Marsha, your spinning/religion instructor?"
"What?" my grown son answers defensively, "No. No way!"
"Don't lie to me Gideon, there's a female avatar on that who looks nothing like me. With a private pass code."
"What? I was trying out a new game."
"Well now you can try being single," she says, walking away.
By this point I'm sweating, this is not a wonderful life. I have to nip my son's compulsive lying in the bud before it destroys his future. I'm just about to call him to me but get distracted by a headline announcing Herman Cain has dropped out of the race. He will not let go of his insane lies that all the women accusing him of sexual misconduct are trying to malign his character. This makes me think of Clinton and his lying, his redefining the meaning of "having sex" with a woman. But, he's still a highly respected public figure. Right next to the Cain headline is news of the Murdoch family, multimedia scions, whose patriarch keeps insisting he knows nothing of the phone hacking his company engaged in, even though they have Blackberry messages to prove that he did. Yet another inordinately successful man lying to keep his very large balls in the air, so to speak.
All of these prominent men in our current society and probably tens of thousands of men throughout time, seem to use lying as a tool the way I use my French press coffee maker. It might not be the most desired tool in getting me the cup of coffee I need, but if there's if the lights are out and/or the electric coffee maker is broken, I'm going to use it.
These men are not chasing a caffeine buzz by any available means like me, it's power they're after. And yes they'd prefer to use the truth to get it the same way I'd rather flip a switch on a machine to get my fix, but if the truth isn't working, they will lie to get what they need. Until, I suspect, the consequences of lying bothers them as much as, if not more than, ground coffee grit that leaks into my cup. Probably a lot more since I can rinse my mouth and forget about it, but lies tend to haunt a person.
"Gideon lied to me the other day and I was kind of on the fence about whether to encourage him or not," I say to a mom friend of mine the next day. (A Mom friend is distinguished from a regular friend because these are women I met after I had children and so the relationships are relatively new. And many of them are so committed to being perfect mommies since they gave up big jobs to do the little unglamorous job of daily mothering, sometimes I like to just say things to get a rise out of them. This is one of those times.)
"You what? You think you should encourage your son to lie?", the woman responds, her right eye twitching ever so slightly.
"Maybe encourage is too strong a word, but how about not discourage?"
"What? Why would you want your son to lie?"
"I don't want him to lie to me, ever," I say, to be clear, "but many of the most successful men are very good liars. I don't want to inhibit his potential by nipping such a valuable skill."
"But..." my friend was having a hard time articulating her thoughts because the twitch had migrated from her eye to her cheek, it looked like it was heading to her mouth and was going to cause a big Tourrettes-like burst of "ARE YOU F**KING KIDDING ME?" so I interrupt her.
"I'm not saying I am going to positively reinforce lying, I'm simply asking what is the line between positive thinking, creative thinking, visionary thinking and actually lying. My son lied to me about trying applesauce, the cup was sealed, there was no way a spoon of applesauce every crossed his lips, BUT, it was wishful thinking and since he completely made it up, it is a sign of creative thinking which leads to dreaming and...."
"Well," my friend says, her face in a moment of repose, "I did hear from a very well respected child therapist that children lying to their mother can be a developmental milestone. It's the beginning of them realizing that they can have a thought that you don't."
"Oh," I say. Then I get a hit of Gideon's future wife, poor thing. Another Mom joins us.
"What do you think about children lying?" the twitchy one asks her.
"I don't make a big deal out of it, all kids lie," she says. Her husband did six months in jail for insider trading, but her highlights still look sunkissed so she's clearly not suffering. Thank god her son didn't walk up licking a broccoli popsicle or I'd probably have decided she knew something I didn't about raising kids. But her son was nowhere near and her lying theory wasn't sitting right with me.
I chose to ask a third friend, a very successful writer who never wears make up and went to Brown and just seems deeper than anyone in my circle. She directs me to a TED talk about happiness. Gilbert, the speaker is a bit of a smug scientist and throws a lot statistics around about quadriplegics vs. people who win the lottery and how they all have the same level of happiness in the long run because of the human brain's fantastic ability to adjust. I'm just about to give up on this talk as being irrelevant to my dilemma until he gets to his summation and asserts that the cost of unbounded ambition is that it leads us to take actions we are not likely to recover from, actions that greatly reduce our chance for happiness, actions like cheating and stealing and lying.
I start to twitch myself because sure, I want my children to be people I can brag about for affecting change and making a difference, but what I really want is for my them to be happy, or at least have a shot at being happy. Listening to this lecture, it occurs to me that my real responsibility when it comes to my children lying is to teach them what it costs as soon as possible so they can begin to understand the consequences of not being truthful.
After school the next day I take my son's chin in my hand and look him in the eye, "Gideon, you didn't eat your applesauce yesterday did you?"
He tries to pull his small face away and look at the floor avoiding my gaze.
"You lied to me Gideon. Please don't lie to me."
"Okay Mommy," he says. And then he starts to cry. I can feel how confusing sorting all this is out for him and how much he hates disappointing me. I think, it's a beginning Dani, and teaching him this might even be better than getting him to eat asparagus.
"I'm sorry Mommy," he adds, hugging my thighs.
"Okay honey. Don't cry. It's okay.
"Just don't lie. Your life will be better without it."
Could it be that simple?