I don’t want to talk about the end of Breaking Bad. Or the government shut down. I have a lot going on right now and just feel generally whiny and crabby. Also, my son is going through a “Daddy” phase where he doesn’t want anything to do with me and is super crabby when I talk to him. A chunk of months ago it was the reverse; this is how kids do. We took a couple of road trips, me and the D, in the spring and summer and really enjoyed our time together. But right now is all about Dad playing with the pirate ship with him (it’s OCTOBER and he’s still playing with that ship that “Santa” got him – best Santa gift ever), and the eleventy billion pieces that accompany it that I find in places like my boots or in the silverware drawer. I’m enjoying the break, honestly. “Sorry, he wants only YOU to read him the Buccaneer Bunny book for the 800th time AGAIN tonight!” Is that bad?
My son has some of my built in “bad” streak. I have seen it since he was born (you wouldn’t think babies could do this, but oh, they can; when I tried to teach him to stop biting my nipple when he was still a nursing infant, he looked up at me with a little evil look and just went CHOMP as hard as he could. I screamed so loudly it scared the shit out of him, and he never did it again. Point for Mom), and it is becoming more obvious now that he’s the ripe old age of 4.5. My Mom used to say that I was born with a criminal mind. I’m not sure that’s it exactly, and it’s not really as simple as being a “bad seed,” but it’s a general proclivity to very occasionally do things that get you into trouble even though you know they are wrong, and then try to lie your way out of it if caught. This worked as a childhood career for me, most of the time. I lied my way out of several instances of being caught shoplifting, and even lied my way out of a big fight between two school rivals in high school that apparently I instigated, which drew the local police, who took me downtown to scare me, and then released me to my parents. I tried to blame it on my sister when my Mom found her favorite dress cut into ribbons when I was about 7, (I decided I needed the material for my doll’s clothing). My sister, who is four years older, has none of this. It never occurs to her first to do the wrong thing, only the right thing. She was the model of perfect and good and in many ways, including her always-high GPA and clean reputation, and still is. She made me march back to the local drugstore and return a Snickers bar I stole when I was still in elementary school, thinking it taught me a lesson to be penitent and return it (when the only lesson I learned was, not only don’t get caught, but don’t tell your sister when you do bad shit). A couple of years ago she was trying to do something hotel-wise for her boss that involved calling up hotel A and pretending to be someone else in order to ascertain information that would decide whether the boss should stay in hotel A or hotel B, but you had to be a certain type of person in order to get the info, which involved a fair amount of bullshitting. She couldn’t do it. She called me and gave me all the info and asked if I would. So I called the hotel and found out what it was, pretending whatever it was she told me, so she could make the right decision for the boss. It was of so little consequence to me that I don’t even remember what I had to say. I’m an actor. We’re professional liars.
Sometimes this skill has parlayed into a real ability to help people. I have written literally dozens of outraged letters “from” various friends of mine to heads of businesses, from small, local businesses to national entities, demanding reparation for this wrong or that as the person described it to me. Hearing back each time when the person received whatever they were asking for, whether a return of their money for buying a defective product or service, or even just an apology and offer to make things right, is very satisfying, and I’ve been glad to have the opportunity to help.
But yeah, my son has it. I have caught him lying about stuff that comes home on his daily report from preschool, insisting that he didn’t do this or that as the teacher indicated, and it was “somebody else,” and actually calling the teachers liars! Which is bullshit. The other night, this behavior manifested in a mysterious bright yellow stain on the cheap, scratched up tile in our apartment kitchen. At first I thought something had leaked out of a bag somewhere, but I was too busy to deal with it and got busy doing other shit. I tried to wipe it up really quickly and it wasn’t budging, so I figured I’d have to bleach it. I am crunchy-granola enough that I’ve tried to stop using bleach, but there are times like this when I need it, so I still have it. I got it out but before I used it, I called D into the kitchen using Stern Mom Voice. “Little boy,” (this is what I call him when he’s in trouble. It’s sort of like “pal,” like, “I’m not standing in your space, pal, you’re standing in mine,” right before someone gets cold-cocked). “Little boy,” I said, “Come in here right now.” I pointed at the spot. “What is that?” I asked him. “I don’t know,” he said, very quietly. “No?” I said, “no idea at all? That wasn’t something you did or spilled or something?” “No, Mom, it wasn’t me,” he said. “I wonder how it got there,” I “wondered” aloud. “Maybe it was Dad!” he said mock-helpfully. “Oh,” I said, “You think Daddy spilled something there?” “Yes” he said, unwaveringly, now confident, even. “I bet Dad spilled something.” I crouched down then, and in a quiet, menacing voice said, “Let me tell you something, little boy. If you did something to the floor here by accident, that’s ok. You are NOT in trouble. Accidents happen, I just need to know what it is so that I can figure out what to use to try to clean up the spot, as it’s not coming off with regular soap. BUT, IF YOU ARE LYING TO ME, and I come to find out that you DID make that spot and you LIED, you will be in very, very big trouble. The kind that means we’re not going to Evan’s birthday party next weekend. The kind that means no TV after school for a week. THAT kind of trouble.” I felt like a cop working a suspect, offering him a deal if he talked NOW and could get in front of it. “Now,” I said, “do you want to revise your answer? Think carefully.”
“Marker,” he said.
“One of those yellow highlighter markers from the cup next to the computer?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “Sorry, Mom.”
“That’s ok,” I said, ruffling his hair, “You did a good job telling me the truth. Always tell me the truth and you will not be in trouble.”
My Mom occasionally took this tack with me, but it was rare. Because her childhood included some horrific fighting between my grandparents, she was very conflict-averse, and would only push so far. And I was stubborn, very, very stubborn. My son is also this same stubborn, but he is tangling with the best. “I have your number, little boy,” I told him at dinner when he lied about his daily report. “I will ask Miss Megan tomorrow if this report is accurate, and if you are lying, you will regret it. Now, did you or did you not participate in the math activity and cut out the shapes they said that you did?” “I did,” he said. “Thank you,” I replied.
I don’t know how long it will work, but somehow I feel this is important to establish very, very young, because he has that streak. That sly streak. Must figure out ways to channel it for good.