Everyone, meet child. This is a photo of her a short time ago, and she looks the same now, except we no longer have to roll those jeans, and she got bangs.
A cool thing about six-year-olds is that you can have conversations with them. They say things that are accidentally hilarious, and they’re figuring out sarcasm and all kinds of other verbal/social nuances, cues, and tricks.
Six-year-olds like to make stuff up. Especially knock knock jokes.
Fella taught Child to say “wocka wocka” after every joke, regardless, so that at least we can laugh at the Fozzie incantation.
Here’s a transcript: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Cat.” “Cat who?” “Oh no! There’s a dog next to me, I better run, wocka wocka.”
Child is at once sophisticated and deeply naive.
She is coming to terms with the world. She experiences sadness and empathy. She has dreams that scare her and delight her. She tells me about them, and I feel lucky.
When she tells me she can’t sleep or when she seems to be deeply sad, I feel helpless and worried. And I tell her that it’s okay to be sad, and I ask her about it, and she doesn’t have good answers. Her go-to is, “I don’t know.”
So even though her emotional experience is visibly complex, her ability to discuss it is limited.
Yesterday, she came home from school with a hole in her pants. It was a hole that smacked of intention, and it was on her right thigh.
Can you see where this is going?
“What happened to your pants?”
“I don’t know!”
“Clearly you do. What happened?”
“I just told you, I don’t know.”
“Did you cut them?”
“How did that hole get there then?”
“Well, maybe it happened when I pulled up my pants because they were falling down.”
“Child, c’mon. I don’t think that your pants would’ve ripped there if it happened when you pulled them up or down.”
“I don’t know!” She begins to weep.
The conversation continues like this, until she finally admits that she did, indeed, cut her pants. Then she said it was because she was bored, then she said somebody else did it. Then she said she did it because she was trying not to make eye contact with the little boy who the day before tried to kiss her and was probably on his way to try to kiss her again and then copy her work, when she got called away to her reading tutor.
I explained to her that she should tell me the truth about things, and that it’s important to be honest to that people trust her, and that I was less upset that she cut her pants, and more upset that she lied about it. I said this for her benefit. So that she would experience the unpleasantness of regret. The sting of disappointing one’s mother. These are extreme sensations to the under-ten set.
She was so scared that she’s not going to get to go to a birthday party on Friday that she would’ve said anything.
I explained that we’d probably go to the birthday party regardless because it’d be rude not to, since we already said we’d go, and because of the rules of child-party-reciprocity.
It did upset me that she cut her pants. It didn’t really upset me that she lied. I used to lie ALL the time when I was a kid. Now, I’m so honest/ethical that it’s sometimes counterproductive. People found it to be refreshing when I sold cars, and infuriating when I sold cell phones.
So I view the lying as a symptom of her limited vocabulary. She lies because she wants to know if I’ll tolerate it, and because it’s way, way easier than trying to dig around for the words to use to tell the story of the truth.
Turns out, some people who study child behavior agree with me.
It also seems that I accidentally expressed a reasonable amount of displeasure in appropriate language.
Finally, my parenting instincts are good! I expect this will be the case as child gets older. She’s reached an age I remember being, and I think I have a more-clear-than-is-usual recollection of the emotional experience of being 6, 7, 8, etc.
When I was a kid, I lied because I enjoyed the thrill of getting away with something I knew was wrong, and because, as it turns out, I was testing my chops for writing fiction, which is my art of choice, and which was not a choice.
Now buckle in for the grownup portion of this post.
Fella believes that Child should’ve emerged from the chute with adult reasoning skills. He finds what I view to be regular, childhood, testing-the-water behavior, and picky eating, and other strange, annoying, “these are the only ways I have to control my life” kid things to be cosmically imposing.
Fortunately, he always defers to me.
Unfortunately, I have a strong reflex to second guess myself. And I say all the time, “She’s only six!”
So when he postulated last evening about how “we must think of a way to stop this lying,” and “sometimes I think you don’t think very far into the future!,” I kind of wanted to curl into a ball and quit everything.
Yesterday was a long, mildly disappointing day, and I was emotionally drained from the hour-long pants conversation, and I’d been up since 5, and busy the way through, and hadn’t done zumba for like 2 days, and some other stuff, too, and just ugh.
(By the way, if you are depressed and sedentary, do zumba. It is like Prozac, no joke)
This morning, I googled, “six year olds lying” and as it turns out, lots of other parents must also google that phrase, because the first five results were sites affiliated with hospitals, some more useful than others, and I sent Fella like 3 links, and congratulated myself, but not too much, and felt much better about things.
Then I went on to another extremely productive day, but I was clever enough to get up at 5 this morning and do Zumba straight away, so my day was entirely without unreasonable disappointment and self-consciousness and I was and will probably continue to be extremely productive.
I like days like today.