By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter, Contributing Writer
“You lied,” he said with a matter-of-fact, accusatory tone. Four-year-olds can be incredibly opinionated. “You lied!” So much drama in such a little body. Using my motherly, meteorological skills, I had predicted an end to the rain and a romp outdoors. Alas, the rain continued to pour.
“I did not lie. I was wrong.” This fine distinction did not impress him. As a preschooler, he is just beginning to understand the lines that separate fantasy from reality and fiction from fact. With assistance from his 12-year-old brother, he is also becoming familiar with the terms “truth” and “lie.”
I have a friend whom I quite adore. I actually adore most of my friends; otherwise, why call them friends? I met her several years ago through our children, and that single commonality grew into a side attraction, with our relationship becoming the priority. Throughout shared meals and countless playdates, we whined, complained and solved world problems while getting to know each other better.
During one of our secret-sharing sessions, she bragged that one of her mad parental, female skills included the ability to lie with the confidence and coolness of a secret agent. She offered me her talent as a friendship- affirming gift in case I ever needed to lie my way out of a situation and I had no idea what to say. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be flattered.
At what point does an error become a lie? When does a tall tale turn into a fib? Are fairy tales lies or are they simply behavior lessons, disguised as doomed princesses and magical talking animals, for wayward children?
Long ago, when I was very young and knew much less than I know now, I asked many questions to improve my knowledge. I was convinced these queries sounded erudite and were amazingly original. My parents did the best they could to answer me. In fact, they were never without a quick response. Now, as a mother of two, I recognize their tones for what they really were: frustration mixed with humor. They desperately wanted me to stop talking, while they were also amused by every word
When I asked such questions as “Why are there little red balls on the highway power lines?” they answered quickly so I would stop making noise, at least for a little bit. My father informed me, with authority, that the balls, spaced in equal distances, were attached to the very thin wires high in the sky because these lines were almost undetectable and the balls increased visibility from above. Birds, especially while migrating, often became exhausted and needed to know where to rest their weary wings. Naturally, these man-made red balls were created to help our wildlife.
Was that a lie? Or was that simply free entertainment? It took me a couple of decades to figure out that these bright overhead bulbs were designed for low-flying planes, and tired birds could simply flap to the nearest tree branch—or even just land on the ground.
Once it has been determined that a lie has been committed, the next step is to feel insulted. Clearly, my oldest is trying to make sure the youngest understands the horrors of lying and that he broadcasts transgressions whenever they appear to occur. But my friend finds the art of lying to be a desirable skill that not only needs to be announced, but also perhaps attached to a résumé.
So why am I so distraught if my children lie while my friend celebrates her talent? All complicated moral arguments aside, it’s probably because I don’t like to be tricked—that, and I would hate for them to be better at something than I am. I am awful at creating an alternate reality. My face flushes, I start blinking uncontrollably and my babbling increases an octave with each fabrication uttered. It’s obvious that a career in espionage is beyond my abilities.
Even as I tried to evaluate the benefits of being able to fool friends, family and polygraph machines, I heard a rumbling in the distance. Chaos reigned as I stomped into the living room and found my progeny wrestling over some show on TV. The reason was irrelevant; as a parent, I needed them to stop arguing.
“If you can’t compromise on your own, I will ban TV for life,” I announced. “And turn down your voice volume or you will never be allowed to play with each other again. Period.” I turned and walked away. I didn’t even crack a smile.
How about that? I guess I can lie with a straight face.
DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.