My husband has just set off with Prima (aged 6) and Secundo (aged 5) for the last ski of the season. I like saying “the last ski of the season” because it makes us seem like some Austrian family whose children could ski before they could talk. Actually, we are a Sri Lankan family and unfortunately our children have inherited my sense of balance. I have been known to fall over from a standing position, whilst sober and stationary. Despite having three generations of Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons in our family, this inner ear defect has gone undiagnosed for 36 years, to the great detriment of the potential career as an Olympic skier that I might have had.
After our last family skiing experience a month ago, (which involved a freak blizzard, zero visibility and stalactites of frozen mucus from little noses), I was impressed that the children were prepared to brave it again – until Secundo happily told me that Daddy had promised that they were going to the snow but they did not have to ski, they were simply allowed to watch. Of course Secundo had not made the causal connection between the child-sized skis in the boot of the car, skiing and the fact that his daddy is a bald-faced liar. I understand and sympathise with husband’s reasoning behind this particular lie. If he told the children the truth, he faced the prospect of a three hour drive, trapped alone with Prima and Secundo, who would whinge, negotiate, cry and then make themselves vomit the whole way there. Not even the McDonalds Golden Arches, shining like the last bastion of bribery and (premature cardiac) corruption on the highway, would get him through.
And so he has lied. The only problem with this particular lie is that when he arrives on the ski slopes in three hours and has to renege on his promise, Secundo is going to transform into a human rights lawyer, determined to uphold the rule of law. His opening statement will begin with, “But you promised…” and it will all be downhill for Daddy from there. If Prima senses that her brother is losing any ground to his father, she will pull out her trump card and vomit in the car park on cue, distracting Daddy sufficiently for Secundo to make a come back. The little Ducks hunt as a pack.
Husband and I lie to the children all the time. Actually, one could argue that it is not really lying. It is the temporary postponement of the inevitable revelation of a stressful truth through well-intentioned concealment. I am not sure what the Oxford English Dictionary would say about this, but most parents would agree with me that this is not strictly lying. In any event, we tell ourselves that we do this to prevent the children from feeling anxiety. Previous lies have included: no we are not moving from London to Australia; no we are not moving from Canberra to Sydney; no we are not firing that nanny you love.
Sometimes we lie to both the older children; sometimes we lie to one and tell the truth to the other, making the other complicit in the lie (I’m not sure what that is called but I am sure that parenting experts would not recommend it); and sometimes we lie to each other about the lies we have told our children (for example, “No husband, I did not promise the children a packet of chocolate frogs before bedtime if they let me finish this blog in peace…”)
It’s not that our children have a heightened propensity towards anxiety. They just have a heightened ability to both articulate it and argue their way out of the source of the anxiety. We naturally would prefer to inflict anxiety at the last possible moment (for example, a few days before we boarded the plane for Australia) rather than a few months before.
Like any liar, we sometimes get trapped in our own web of lies. The children seem to have (a) a hansard-reporter-like memory, often throwing entire transcripts of our exact words, back in our faces; and (b) an uncanny ability to construct a cogent argument (for example, “But Mummy, last year you said that next year we could get a puppy. This year is last year’s next year.”)
Today, whilst husband is put on trial somewhere in the Snowy Mountains by the Advocate General and his Vomiting Sidekick, I shall be enjoying only having two children with me, one of whom is six months old and therefore can not talk back yet. I’ve planned coffee, lunch and dinner with friends and I am going to shower for longer than six minutes.
On their return from the snow, when a morally outraged Secundo inevitably interrogates me about my role in The Great Snow Conspiracy, I shall deny any knowledge of my husband’s deception and lie like my life depends upon it.