The Lying Game

A Jason manford comment made me think recently. (I know, it’s surprising.)

The quote was a version of the following: That when an adult asks what he thinks happens after death he says he doesn’t know but probably nothing. When a kid asks the same, he can’t help but talk about heaven and angels and fluffy clouds.

And I was so grateful to have a faith. Not because I think I’m better than anyone else, or that my answer has more validity than yours, but because I believe in absolute honesty with my son. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things he doesn’t need to know. But if you listen to their questions carefully, most children want an answer you can give in an age appropriate way. When a three year old asks where babies come from, the answer ‘Mummy’s tummy’ will normally suffice. When they point to a man sleeping rough on the street and ask why he’s asleep on the floor, your child probably won’t question you further if you tell them he doesn’t have a house. And if they do question further? Well then that’s ok too. I’m comfortable to keep giving information layer by layer until their curiosity is satisfied. I see it as a privilege actually.

But I wouldn’t know how to begin to look a child in the eyes and tell them that there is nothing else but this world. To tell them that grandpa has been buried in the ground and that’s it. If that’s really what I believed, that this world is all we have, that our actions are meaningless outside of the eighty or so years on earth we are given, I would not only be at a loss for answers to my children, but I think I’d find it pretty hard to get out of bed myself.

Why do good things happen to bad people? Why does tragedy strike the most worthy of us? Why do some people have to live with illness, or poverty, or heartbreak? The answer that the world is random, that things just occur for no discernible reason is just not good enough, even for me, let alone for an inquisitive child whose favourite word is why.

But truthfully, if I COULD look myself in the mirror and accept those facts as random and meaningless, I would try and explain those beliefs to my children too. We want to protect our kids from painful truths, so we try and sugarcoat things. I get that. But in my world, where I’m not even that comfortable with the tooth fairy, (unless everyone concerned is very clear it’s a game, and it’s all done with lots of heavy winking and tones of jest to make that really evident) I’m not interested in putting an icing glaze on the big issues.

I saw a forum conversation recently about how to explain death to a 3 year old. The answers were really helpful to the original poster, but I read the entire thread in my usual judgemental way, and was left unsettled when I finished. “We told our son that grandpa lives on the moon.” “We told our daughter that auntie Beth is a star now, and then we chose a star for them to look out for so they could wave at her.” “We told our kids that their great grandma moved to Australia, which is really far away so we won’t be able to see her any more. After all, why upset them?” “Our twins were only just three, so we just told them that grandma was feeling too poorly to see them – after a while they stopped asking.”

I don’t doubt that these answers cause less upset in the short term, and maybe by the time they realise you are lying to them, (because that’s what you’re doing, it’s not sugarcoating, it’s lying) the immediate pain of the persons passing is over, or they can deal with it in a more mature way, but what of your relationship with your kids? Their trust in you to be able to face the hard situations with them as well as the straightforward or enjoyable? It seems to me that when the real answers come out, all your kids have learned is that death and dying is something to be so afraid of that it’s better to make up a story than talk about the truth.

For me, death doesn’t need a sense of magic or fantasy. And the truth is, it’s a matter of faith pure and simple. At some point, you have obviously come to your own convictions about what happens after you die, so why not have the strength to share these with your child? I feel lucky to believe in heaven, but I would still start this important conversation with the disclaimer that “no one knows for certain what happens when a person dies but I believe…” As long as your child leaves the conversation knowing that the person who is gone isn’t in pain, isn’t sad, and isn’t scared, so they don’t have to be either, what are you worried about?

The meaning of death and dying, along with illness, sex, and any number of other words, are our responsibility to teach. They are brand new concepts to our children. They aren’t inherently scary words to be afraid of. They are whatever we want them to be. Do we want them to be a lie? Surely it’s our job to teach not only the meanings of the words, but also the emotional responses to these facts of life, in a clear and open way without relying on the quick fix of deception.

That’s how I feel today anyway. Ask me again when my boy loses his first tooth and I don wings and a sparkly pen to creep into his bedroom and retrieve it.

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The Fine Line of Friendship

It would be wrong to say that we’re now not friends any more.

We haven’t been for years.

They say there is a fine line between madness and genius, between love and hate, between pleasure and pain. There’s a blurriness there, A haze where you cant quite tell which state you’re in. I think that happens in friendship too. We definitely used to be friends. Oh yes. I remember that part clearly. Lots of laughter, lots of sharing, lots of making the choice to spend time together, to meet up between classes, to wait for each other after the final bell, to awkwardly save each other a spot on the bus ride home, That familiar sensation of shifting your bag across two seats and hoping no-one else asked to sit down before the other one showed up.

And then school days finished, and it took more effort to see one another. But we made plans, we used the lack of awkwardness when we saw one another as proof of the strength of our friendship. We hardly ever see one another, but when we do-it’s like no time has passed! We never wondered whether that was because we only ever lived in the past, with a brief “how’s the husband, how’s the job?”

How long has it been since you were excited to see me? How long has it been since I didn’t wonder about the benefits of our friendship and weighed up whether seeing you was a ‘worthwhile’ use of my time? It must have been years since you made me feel good about myself, since I got home after a night out feeling refreshed and invigorated rather than beaten down and used. I’m sure the same is true in reverse. I’m not the person you call when you need a shoulder to cry on. I’m not the name you search for on your contacts list to share good news. I’m not the spontaneous night out, the I was just passing by, or even the saw this and thought of you. 

And life is too short for that kind of functional friendship, which survives because of a history of existence rather than continued building and fortification. I’m past the fear that if I let go of friendship I won’t find a replacement. The nervous voice inside me that lies, in whispers of “you cant make new old friends” when the truth is, you can meet a soul mate at any age. So I should thank you really. I’m glad that we don’t have to waste time any more. I’m glad that you made the choice for us. You chose you. You made it clear that I’m not worth fighting for, I’m not worth keeping in your life when you clearly need so much space for yourself.

There’s a fine line between friendship, and not. But the real pretence is in the assumption of loss when you move from one side to the other. The idea that when you cross that line you take on a heaviness or a pain that wasn’t there before. In reality that must come earlier on, almost without you noticing. At some obscure point you quite cant put your finger on, that was the moment of loss. Because now? Moving over that fine line into not caring one bit about you?

I’ve never felt lighter.

The Chocolate Wars

I have a pretty enviable three year old, who does what he is told. He looks for my hand as soon as we get near a road or into a car park, he isn’t a screamer or prone to tantrum, he always says thank you, and he never ever takes things without asking.

Well, he never used to,  anyway.

The last two weeks I have woken up in the morning to various ‘surprises’ in the kitchen. Empty wrappers, chocolate crumbs, empty spaces where expensive imported treats used to be.. All before 7am. After receiving various pieces of advice, I decided to chronicle the events, for other judgemental parents worldwide, and as a testament to the last few weeks of my life-if as I suspect, the stress of this early morning battle of wills actually forces me into an early grave.

Sunday May 11th
Hubby calls me into the kitchen, to be greeted by a virtual mountain of Reese’s cup wrappers. I count the damage, 9. I’m torn between shock that he would take them and eat them without asking, and hope that I don’t have to deal with projectile vomiting elsewhere in the house. I go find R, and after naughty corner, sternly tell him it is not acceptable behaviour, and there will be no treats for the rest of the day, and take away a stuffed toy. No tears from him, but those punishments are usually the end of it in our house, so I get on with the day.

Sunday May 18th
Had almost forgotten about last week’s ‘mishap.’ About 7.30am, I went to throw some rubbish in our kitchen bin, and was confronted by an empty bag of giant milky bar buttons. A bag I could have sworn had been half full. So unsure that it would have happened again, my first instinct was to ask the other man in our house. “Darling?” I called through the bathroom door. “Did you wake up in the night with the munchies, and finish off half a bag of giant milky bar buttons?” Surprisingly, my hubby was not the culprit.

This time I got really angry. Especially after asking R if he’s eaten anything from the kitchen and getting a negative response. Stealing, Lies, Deception tactics… was my son on the road to a juvenile detention centre?! Overreactions aside, (after three minute naughty corner for us to confab) this time we took away iPad, (more of a punishment for us frankly) and favoured toys for a week. Niggling thought in back of head that we needed a consistent punishment if this was going to become a habit. Also occurred to us that taking away treats doesn’t really work when the child in question has already had more chocolate that morning than you would ordinarily allow in a week.

Monday May 19th
“He’s done it again.”
No one wants to wake up to those words. Not for the second day in a row. I blearily went into the kitchen, to find a Musketeers Bar gnawed on on the floor. Should I be glad he at least didn’t try to hide it today? Unimpressed by the peanuts, he had bitten off all the surrounding chocolate, leaving a pile of shavings on the floor. I literally gave birth to a hamster. Sigh.
Again, he denied it, even when faced with the evidence. He started pulling funny faces, looking cross, and basically acting.. well.. three. Eventually I was rewarded with the indignant, “What?! I was so hungry!” which surprisingly didn’t make me feel any better, especially as he had been given a full cup of Cheerios about a half hour beforehand, still untouched in his bedroom. We decided on a consistent punishment, but I have a feeling it’s more about getting through to him.

I turned to social media, and as we all do, asked a question I already had my own opinion on, and waited for someone to agree with me. Should I move the choc to a cupboard out of his reach, or find a consistent punishment and stick with it? I had an overwhelming response towards option number one. Nearly everyone agreed that he was too little to deal with the temptation, and I was causing myself more hassle than necessary trying to get the message into his little boy head.

Of course, like the majority of us, I couldn’t care less what anyone else’s thoughts about my parenting are, and decided to ignore popular opinion and keep at the consequences approach. Short term pain, long term gain. As easy as it might be to just avoid the problem and move it all away, by persevering I would teach R that he can’t have whatever he wants without asking, that lying is wrong, that gluttony is wrong. It would be worth it in the long run when I had built up a three year old who asks permission, who knows that just because something is tempting, it doesn’t mean he gets to just take it. I would be raising a man who is loyal and honest and has patience, and is TRUSTWORTHY.  Either that, or just less calories for me to inhale in the mean time. Win Win.

Tuesday May 20th
Success! No chocolate eaten, one happy little boy reunited with the iPad and lots and lots of praise and play. Oh all of ye of little faith out there! I had an excellent talk with him, explained all the reasons why he can’t help himself, and here are the results. Smug mum alert. I knew I could get through to him.

Wednesday May 21st
Er… May have spoken too soon, if the remains of an ENTIRE EASTER EGG in the bin this morning are anything to go by….
Again, greeted by denial and angry face, and eventual insistence that he was “very very hungry” and then that I was “not at ALL splendid.” (Cue fist in mouth to muffle snort of laughter and maintain stern face.)

If this hadn’t already become a matter of principle, I think I may be ready to move to the ‘move it’ camp. But hey, who DOESN’T love banging their head against a brick wall eh?

We have now enlisted nursery to help, with his favourite Auntie coining the hashtag, “Big Boys Don’t Take Without Asking.” I love it; we’re printing t-shirts.

Not quite, but we have made a fetching sign together, and dare I say it… I *think* he gets the message this time.

Agree with me? Think I’m mad? Feel free to post below. I can only hope this is the end of the saga, but something makes me say “To be continued…”

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Let’s Be Honest

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For a brief period during university, I had my only ‘student’ job, face to face fundraising on the streets of London, or as its more commonly (and delightfully) referred to as, charity mugging, or chugging.

It taught me a lot. About the business side of charity, about the psychology of working for a good cause, about the actual charities I was working to raise money for. But most it all, it taught me about lies.

Like many aspects of life, it is best summed up by quoting Chandler from Friends, this time as he explains to his wife: “It’s always better to lie, than to have the complicated discussion. … except with you!”

There is no doubt that lies are convenient. Need to get off the phone? Oh, my battery is dying. Need to get out of an awkward conversation? Hang on, I just remembered I have to meet someone. Forgot to reply? I never received your email.

In psychology, these kind of lies are referred to as ‘Butlers’. They stand between you and the person you are talking to, as a middle man, making the excuses for you,. Lies are essentially buffers so that you don’t have to hurt people’s feelings by telling the truth, which is more often than not simply, “I don’t want to talk to you.” And socially, there isn’t really anything wrong with that. If we went around telling everyone how boring their boyfriend drama was, or how little time we wanted to spend hearing about their kids new nursery…. We wouldn’t have many friends left to lie to.

But these white lies have become human nature. And what surprised me so much as a chugger, was how many times I was lied to daily, and for no social convention whatsoever. After all, I was never going to see these people again. I wasn’t a relative, a friend, or even an acquaintance. We share no mutual friends, I don’t know what area they live in or even their first names. We are as much strangers as you can be with another human (who you actually know exists) and we will probably spend no more than 3 or 4 seconds out of our lives in each other’s company. Additionally, I wasn’t asking them a personal question, or for their opinion on my choice of footwear or my haircut. No one needed to worry about offending me. Fundraisers are very clearly working, and while often need the sign ups quite desperately to hold onto their jobs, are rarely if ever personally offended by the 99% of people who keep on walking by. (To put this into perspective, if we achieved around 4 or 5 sign ups between 10am-6pm, the day was considered extremely successful.)

And yet without any understandable psychology behind it, 9/10 times people choose to lie. So let’s put aside all the BS for a minute and just be completely honest. I’m off duty, I’m out of the fundraising game, and to be really straight with you- I just don’t care. But whether you are reading this on a tablet or a phone, or on a computer or a laptop, at home or at work, here is a fact. The amount may vary from household to household, but we can all afford to donate per month to any given charity.

You just don’t want to.

We said it! It has been said. We’d rather have the beer with our mates, the coffee with a friend, the subscription to the magazine, the cleaner or the childcare or the wrap from the cafe across the street. In some rare cases, it may take more of a sacrifice, but we still choose to have the extra item on the grocery shop or the variation in our wardrobe choices.

And here’s the amazing thing, no one cares! No one minds. In fact, everyone agrees! We all make choices about our money and where we want it to go. These are all totally reasonable choices, necessities or extras alike. We all believe that we should treat ourselves, or our kids or friends, often before we look elsewhere. And every human on the planet weighs up whether something is a good enough cause to be worthy of our time and certainly of our money. After all, the greatest philanthropist in the world does not give arbitrarily to anyone who asks.

Everyone has their own personal soft spots, myself included. (I wouldn’t go giving me any kind of precious object to look after for example, without being aware I may well pawn it at some point to buy a homeless teenage boy a three course meal.) I am clearly not a cruel heartless person. But I will freely admit here in front of all my millions of avid readers, that I would rather go to Starbucks than save any kind of animal species on a monthly basis. If you stop me in the street and expect me to start welling up as you tell me about abandoned puppies, you have severely misjudged your audience. I am already planning on asking for extra hazelnut syrup.

And before I had worked in face to face fundraising, I probably would have done exactly what you do. Pick up an imaginary phone call, bark out that I’m late for a meeting, tell the fundraiser that I would stop and talk to them on my way back down the road. Or on the off chance that they got me in conversation for more than those few seconds, argue that I really couldn’t afford even £2 a week, which was such a shame as it sounded like an excellent cause. I would look it up on the internet when I got home, and discuss it with my other half. Did they have a brochure or a card?

Now, I save us both some time and say something revolutionary. “No thank you.” If I’ve started talking too early and don’t have to break my stride I may add, “I’d be wasting your time.”

It costs nothing, it doesn’t offend, and best of all-it’s the truth.

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