Monday, March 19, 2018

The Moment of Truth by Bonnie Veaner

Bonnie Veaner's character decides never to lie to her children, but it proves harder than anticipated.

Lying Low

I was waiting in the checkout line at Target in front of a screaming toddler whose exasperated mother was pushing him in his stroller. I glanced back to see what all the fuss was about, when the mother, clearly at her wit's end, knelt down and locked eyes with her son. "See that lady?" She pointed up at me. "She's going to spank you if you don't stop crying."

Taken aback, I looked directly at the little boy. "No, I'm not," I said. "She's lying." Might as well get used to it kid, I thought. Adults are all the same; every damned one of them lies.

The mother bristled at my response to her child - clearly, I was no ally. She stood up and rummaged around in her purse until she found an old, half-eaten lollipop. She sucked off the dirt and popped the candy in her son's mouth. He grabbed the lollipop stick and stopped crying; he won the battle. An experienced manipulator, he had played his mother with the precision of a military general. This kid was the Sun Tzu of toddlers.

Feeling a bit smug for refusing to be complicit in the mother's lie, I turned back toward the cashier to wait my turn. When I'm a parent, I reflected, I'll never lie to my kids.



Led Down the Garden Path

I learned that grown-ups lie to children when I was three years old. My mother was dropping me off for the first time at The Little House Preschool, which was in someone's home. The entrance to the school was through a wooden gate that opened up into a large backyard filled with toys and children playing.

"NOOOO!" I screamed. "I don't want to go!" I held onto the gate for dear life.

"Come on, honey," coaxed my mother. "You'll have fun. And I won't be gone long. I need to run errands and go shopping; you need a new coat."

Unmoved by her plea, I vociferously made my intentions clear; I wasn't going in there.

An old lady - she must have been about forty - crossed the yard and greeted my mother. Bending over, she put her hands on her knees and smiled at me. "Would you like to ride our magic tricycle? We have a magic tricycle in the yard." She pointed to the center of the play area, where there was a red Radio Flyer trike, complete with bell and streamers.

I stopped crying and wiped my nose with my sleeve. A magic tricycle? I thought. Does it go by itself? Maybe it flies!

The smiling lady reached for my hand. My mother kissed me goodbye as the lady escorted me to the trike, which was parked on a winding concrete path flanked by grass, flower beds, toys, a sandbox, and an empty kiddie pool.

Most of the other children were amusing themselves in the sandbox. I couldn't believe they weren't fighting to see who got to ride the tricycle first. They must not know it's magic, I thought. It's a secret. Only the old lady and I know. Won't they be amazed when I start flying!

The lady let go of my hand and walked back across the yard to deal with some commotion. A boy had gotten sand in his eyes, but I didn't care. I stared at the trike as I lovingly ran my fingers through the streamers. This was the most beautiful tricycle I'd ever seen.

And it was magic.

I climbed the two steps on the back of the trike and sat down on the smooth red and white metal seat. I put my hands on the handlebar grips and secured my feet on the thick black pedals.

Brrring! I rang the bell. No one looked. No one paid any attention. But it didn't matter. I was on the magic tricycle, and in a few minutes, I would be zooming around and maybe even flying above the backyard.

I sat still and waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened. I looked all over for a button to push to get the trike moving, but not finding one, I wiggled my body back and forth to see if that would wake up the magic. I shook the handlebars hard, but that didn't work either.

A terrible realization seeped into my mind. I didn't have the vocabulary to express my feelings, but if I did, I would have said, "That bitch lied to me! She fabricated a story about a magic tricycle just to get me to stop crying. She manipulated my emotions." I knew exactly what she had done, and why. Emotions don't need vocabulary to be concise and accurate; that bitch lied.

I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to feel. I had never been betrayed before. I sat still on the tricycle for a very long time, thinking about the lie.

I don't know how long I had been sitting there when my mother burst through the gate carrying two floral-patterned winter jackets. She was so excited; she always liked me to choose my own clothing, so she bought both jackets and asked which one I wanted, the pink or the blue. She'd return the one I didn't want and then come back to take me home. It was a tough decision. I knew girls were supposed to like pink, but I preferred the cool blue flowers flecked with tiny green leaves. I made my decision, and my mother left again.

I didn't cry this time; I knew she'd be back soon, just like she promised.



A Bad Hair Day

I didn't encounter another big lie until two years later, when I began kindergarten. It was 1967, and all the girls with straight hair were getting pixie cuts. I did not have straight hair, but I needed a haircut, so my mother took me to the White Dove Beauty Salon to see Douglas, a tall, ramrod-straight prig, with argyle socks, and a grey cable knit sweater vest he wore over his blue checked Oxford shirt.

I scrambled up onto the salon chair. After pumping the foot pedal to raise me higher, Douglas snapped a vinyl cape around my neck. He looked at my mother instead of me and asked, "How do you want your hair cut?"

"Anything but a pixie cut," I ordered. I knew my curls, having a mind of their own, would never tolerate a pixie.

The scissors flew, and ten minutes later Douglas spun my chair around, so I could see my new haircut in the salon mirror. I stared, mortified. He'd given me a pixie cut despite my explicit instructions to the contrary. Like many adults, he didn't listen to what I actually said. All he heard was what he expected to hear: pixie cut. But my curly hair didn't lie flat against my head; it stuck out at odd angles.

I was a short, fat pixie with cowlicks and buck teeth. I silently plotted his demise.

I walked to kindergarten the next morning with a knit blue cap pulled low over my ears. Hats weren't allowed in school so when I flatly refused to take mine off, a chorus sang out, "Bonnie got a haircut, Bonnie got a haircut!"

I panicked and ran to hide in the coat closet, where I curled up in a ball and pulled my knit cap down as low as it could go.

I could still hear the other children singing gleefully as my kindergarten teacher crawled into the closet after me.

She pulled back the coats and hunkered down next to me. "Why are you covering your hair?"

"I have the ugliest haircut in the world! A pixie cut!" I fought back tears. "I hate it!"

"Oh, I bet it's not that bad; let me see."

I reluctantly removed my hat. Static electricity made some of my hair stand on end.

"Why, your haircut's beautiful!" my teacher said. Even though it was a bit dark in the closet, I could see her holding back a little smile.

I stared at her in disbelief. Who did she think she was fooling? Why didn't she just tell me the truth? "It's a bad haircut but will grow back quickly, and next time you can get a better haircut." I immediately lost all respect for her and vowed never to interact with her again. She was intellectually stunted, and I knew she had nothing to offer me.

I took a deep breath and, hatless, crawled out from behind the coats. The other children were standing outside the closet giggling. I didn't know the word schadenfreude, but I did understand that my unhappiness made them happy.



Truth Be Told

One adult I could count on to tell me the truth was my mother. She always found the right way to express herself, and she kept it simple.

"Is Santa Claus real?"

"No."

What a relief, I thought. Being Jewish, Santa didn't visit my house anyway, and now I didn't feel left out.

Knowledge is power, so I announced to the entire kindergarten that Santa was pretend, and later told everyone where babies come from.

My mother fielded many a phone call from angry parents about my reign of truth, but that was the price she paid for her honesty. The only time I remember her lying was in the checkout line at Mayfair Market, where we were standing behind a neighbor, a decidedly unpleasant woman. As she paid for her groceries my mother acknowledged her with a perfunctory, "Hello, how are you?"

"Mommy, isn't that the lady you don't like?"

"No, honey, that's not her, that's somebody else."

"It is too her! You don't like her!"

The woman glared at us, grabbed her groceries and ran out of the store.

My poor mother. What monster had she created?

My penchant for telling the truth continued to get me in trouble throughout my childhood, from correcting my third-grade teacher's grammar, to telling my eighth grade Spanish teacher that he was a bastard - which he was.



Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

When I grew up, I vowed never to lie to my own children, but that ideal became progressively more difficult to achieve.

Because I married someone who wasn't Jewish, we celebrated Christmas as well as Hanukkah. My husband grew up with the Santa Claus myth and wanted to continue the tradition, insisting it was nothing more than harmless fun.

I was conflicted, but for the most part went along with it, making sure to never actually lie.

When my daughter was about four she confronted me. "Tell me the truth. Is Santa Claus real?"

I hesitated for a moment and responded, "Santa is a nice story about giving. Anyone who gives a gift is like Santa."

She thought hard about that for a moment, and then yelled, "You're LYING! Santa is REAL!"

"Oh, okay," I said. "Well, I'm Jewish, so I don't really know about these things."

Later, when the subject of the Tooth Fairy came up, I threw in the truth towel and enthusiastically played a role in the deception. "Of course she's real," I told my daughter. "Your tooth is gone, and there's a quarter under your pillow. There's your proof." When my son put a fake tooth under his pillow to try to trick the Tooth Fairy, I left him a fake coin. "See? The Tooth Fairy's no dummy."

As my children grew older and more contemplative, the answers to their questions required more careful reflection. The line between truth and untruth turned uncomfortably grey.

"Does God exist?"

"It doesn't matter what I believe. What do you believe?"

"Did you ever cut school?"

"I grew up in California in the 1970s; the rules were different then."

"Did you ever smoke pot?"

"I went to UC Berkeley, didn't I?"

"Were you a virgin when you got married?"

"I wore a white dress to my wedding." And that is the God's honest truth.

10 comments:

  1. An amusing story that shines a laser beam on some of the dilemmas of parenthood. Thoroughly enjoyable and wittily delivered. Thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  2. Would that every parent understood what it's like being a child and how much even the youngest little ones hear, pick up, and understand all too well!

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  3. A rueful, witty, and knowing take on childhood, honesty, and parenthood by a skilled writer who knows how to get to the heart of the matter. Hilarious ending. A highly recommended read.

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  4. nice take on the approaches to inquisitive children. at the end of the day, as she did, you just do what´s natural.
    Mike McC

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  5. Very original in content, and flowing in style. Well done.

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  6. "I silently plotted his demise" -- first laugh out loud.

    Great storytelling!

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  7. Humor, human interest, an engaging narrative and a story most people can relate to. Well done!

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  8. Thanks, everyone, for your kind and encouraging words!

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  9. A great story, because it is so painfully true.

    James McEwan

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  10. I especially loved the point of view of a child in this story. Thank God, I never made a promise to myself that I would never lie to my child when I became a parent. I wouldn't have any fun.

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