Tuesday, April 04, 2006

was it really about the doughnuts?

My daughter lies to me.

My older son, he doesn't lie. When he doesn't want to talk about something, he clams up. He hedges. He avoids the question. But when I pin him down on something, he tells me the truth. For him, honesty is something non-negotiable.

The little one, he doesn't lie, either. He hasn't quite grasped that lying is possible, being a relatively new 5-year-old. I try very hard not to ask my kids stupid questions like "Did you hit your brother?" when the marks of the fingers are still bright on the face, but sometimes the stupid questions pop out anyway. DS2 doesn't lie. He switches immediately to shift-the-blame mode, most often with "He started it!" Of course his brother never hits him, but in the Calculus of the Youngest, a teasing remark is exactly equivalent to a smack across the face. (We're working on that.)

My daughter, she's tricksier than either of her brothers, or both of them put together. She sneaks around trying to hide things from me -- sometimes good things, like a picture she made for me she wants me to find later, but more often things she just doesn't want me to know about (no need to go into details.) If I ask her why she's sneaking around, she'll deny that she is. If I happen to notice whatever it is she is trying to hide from me, she'll deny trying to hide it.

We've had a few recurrent situations, little developmental problems that she was embarrassed by, that she would lie about all the time. I set up rules for her, things she could do to handle the problem without having to lie or sneak around. That helped a lot, but still we run into problems from time to time.

Today, DD was back in school after a day off sick yesterday. She has had a cold but spiked a fever on Sunday, and yesterday morning she had a slightly elevated temp so I kept her home. She was fine all day (on ibuprofen) and the fever did not return, so it was back to school today.

After school, I was going through her folder and reading the "Monday memo" from her teacher. All the first grades won a doughnut breakfast for reading the most minutes in the last reading competition. The breakfast was yesterday, so DD didn't get any doughnuts. As I was reading the memo, DD was sitting at the table eating her snack. We were chatting back and forth about stuff that was going on, what homework she had, stuff like that. I wasn't paying too much attention to her, as I was reading through her papers.

When I looked up, I saw that she had tears rolling down her cheeks and her eyes were quite red and puffy. Oh! I was shocked. What's the matter, honey? What happened? Are you sick?

Nothing, I'm fine. Nothing's wrong, she insisted, the tears dripping off her long eyelashes.

Now, if she were an adult, I'd respect that and back off. But she's not, she's 7 years old, and she's just getting over being sick, and she's sitting there just fine and then all of a sudden, crying? No, I was not going to let that go.

I squatted beside her so we would be face to face, and using my softest voice I asked her again, What's the matter? After a few more rounds of Nothing, I'm fine, countered by my remarking that if she were fine, she wouldn't be crying, she finally came up with:

I was the only one who didn't get to have doughnuts yesterday.

Hmmm. She enjoyed her free day yesterday, but clearly now she was regretting having stayed home. But it's not like she had a choice! Even if I had known about the doughnuts, I would not have let her go to school with a fever.

DD is very much invested in collecting all of the rewards that she has earned, especially when it's a treat like doughnuts. She was so upset that I didn't want to push her and say what seemed obvious to me at the time, That can't be it!, because I really don't know. Maybe it was about the doughnuts, but maybe it wasn't. When the kid lies to you about things that she thinks are embarrassing, who knows what could have happened that would make her cry out of nowhere?

In the end, I accepted the doughnut explanation, even though I didn't really believe it. There were no other explanations forthcoming. If it's something really dreadful I'll see further signs of it, and we can pursue it then. If it really was about the doughnuts, then she'll have forgotten about it by the morning.

I want to be able to trust what my children tell me, but with this one, it's not easy.

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