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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Truth & Consequences

"Honesty is hard. Telling stories or lies to cover up the truth is easy. But Mama will never be angry with you for telling the truth. Lying is what makes me angry."
Those were the words I said to my daughter as she snuggled into the crook of my arm tonight before she fell asleep. The lie I told her.
While it may have been mostly true there is certainly an element of dishonesty to my statement. While I may always welcome honesty over a lie or a denial of involvement, there will will certainly come a time when I am angry with her for telling the truth, owning up to a mistake or wrong-doing. It's human nature and completely unfair of me to promise her otherwise.
At 4, Emy is experimenting with truth. She walks a fine line of admiring her mistakes and concocting elaborate stories to prove her lack of involvement.
Tonight was perhaps the most ridiculous experiment to date.

When we entered the bathroom to brush her teeth and use the potty one last time before bed, I noticed something amiss. The toilet water was a distinct purple color. Sensing my observation and predicting a round of questioning she immediately attempted to distract by announcing how sad she was. Feeling particularly sad myself today - my aunt had passed away that morning after a lengthy battle with cancer - I paused long enough to ask her why she felt sad. Slamming the lid to the toilet shut and plopping herself on top she replied with a smirk, "No reason."
Well played child, but it's not going to work.
I gently lifted her off and placed her on the edge of the sink, handed her "buttered" toothbrush, and lifted the lid.
"Emeline. Why are your pants in the toilet?" (Add this to the ever growing list of phrases I never thought I'd utter before becoming a parent.)
"I don't know."
Hmmm. Really?
I've watched enough Richard Scary Busytown Mysteries this summer to  know that the first thing I should do to solve a mystery is to look for clues. Feeling clever, I decided to verbalize my connection to her current favorite Netflix series by saying. "Looks like we have a mystery." My statement was met with a deliberately blank stare and a reiteration of the excuse, "I don't know how they got there Mom."
On the floor were her recently worn shoes, socks, and T-shirt. Inside the toilet bowl were the purple, polka-dot leggings that had accompanied the day's outfit.
"Emy, how did your pants end up in the toilet?"
"I don't know."

And so it went. My darling daughter has inherited the stubbornness of both her parents, but being 4 she hasn't quite learned the art of giving in, so a battle of will is often where we end up these days.

After a couple of minutes of this stand-off, I decided I was too tired to play. I really didn't care that the pants were in the toilet. Yes it was a little gross and soggy fishing them out,  but they were going straight into the washing machine anyways. What I cared about was the lying. I want Emy to admit and learn from her mistakes, take responsibility for her actions, and above all be truthful to herself and others. These are hard lessons to learn, I've sure struggled with them, so the issue of honesty was a battle I was going to fight.
"When you are ready to tell Mama the truth of how the pants got in the toilet, I will be ready to listen. Until then it's straight to bed, no books, no songs. You're in bed until you're ready to be honest."
Not surprisingly this brought on tears. What did surprise me was her further slide into deception. She now knew what happened  and although greatly flawed logically, her stories were highly entertaining and imaginative.

Emy's Stories of How The Pants Got in the Toilet
1. A person, maybe a man or a boy came in the front door, snuck into the bathroom, picked up her pants, threw them in the toilet, and left before anyone could even see him.  
2. The pants became magic and flew really high, to the ceiling, and then fell - SPLASH into the toilet.
3. A ghost put them there. 
4. Vampire bats that were really ghosts who live in our roof flew in through the window and scooped them up and put them in the toilet. 

Over the next 30 minutes I had to stifle laughter several times as she fired one explanation after another - insisting on it's truth for a few minutes before inventing another far fetched tale. I was torn between being proud of her storytelling abilities and aghast at the depth she was willing to go to avoid admitting involvement. 
Eventually she gave up and began pleading for her books. At this point she lay in her bed, gripping tightly to my arm, tears streaming down her face. I looked at her and recognized defeat and helplessness in her eyes. She had dug herself into a hole that she had no way of getting out of on her own. I pulled her closely and with great empathy threw her a rope.  

"Did you put the pants into the toilet on purpose or did they get there by accident?" - accident
"Did you take your shirt or your pants off first?" - shirt
"Did you pull your pants off or kick them off?" - Pulled until they got stuck
"When they got stuck, did you pull hard and throw them, or did you kick it off into the air?" - Kick into the air. 
"Did they land on the floor or on the toilet?" - on the toilet 
"Did they fall in or did you put them there?" - They fell in.
"Did you think you were in trouble?" - yes 
"Is that why you didn't tell the truth?" - yes

Both of us exhausted and relieved by her admission, we lay there quietly for a few moments. I wasn't quite finished but wanted to be certain she understood that I was not angry. 

"What could you do differently next time?" - Next time? 
"The next time something that doesn't belong in the toilet falls in, what could you do? How would you handle it?"  

We talked about different ways she could ask for help and I told her that there have been one or two (okay, MANY) occasions where I have dropped things into toilets by mistake. I understood, but being truthful and telling me what happened is always the best choice. 

She fell asleep mere minutes later. I know we will have this discussion time and time again, but hopefully each time she'll hear a little more, learn a little more, and maybe one day she'll be honest from the beginning. Until then I will write down all her stories. The kid has some ideas that would make for an entertaining kid's book.