Big Fish

October 18, 2006

My mother was and still is an inveterate teller of tall tales, especially in conversation with children. Any of you who read my interview with Mommybloggers.com will know that the very name for this blog originated out of an incident involving one of her tales, in this case a tale involving a crocodile, a bedroom closet, and one grandmother emulating Steve Irwin. She delights in the wide-eyed fascination of children with all things fantastic, and decided very early in her career as a mother that it was part of her job to keep the eyes of her own children and those of any children who accidentally wandered into range of hearing as wide as possible.

Accordingly, I grew up in a home in which it seemed entirely possible that there were sea creatures living in the plumbing and gnomes hiding in the closets. There were fairies and elves and imps and other magical creatures in the woods behind our house, and they lived in harmony with the animals there – the squirrels and birds that I saw every day, and the raccoons and skunks that I saw less often but knew well from the tracks in our backyard, tracks that my mother was very careful to point out and explain as evidence of the late-night forest creature moondances that occurred a few times each month. I knew that the forest creatures maintained harmony in their community through the frequent town-hall meetings that they held in a mossy stump – I knew this because my mother showed me exactly where they all sat during these meetings and held up various broken twigs and branches (used as benches) as evidence. I knew that I should never, ever pick toadstools, because if I did so I would be destroying the shelter of the littlest creatures of the forest.

I also knew that my sister and I came from a cabbage patch, and that if we unscrewed our bellybuttons, our bums would fall off.

I was reminded of my mother’s proclivity for storytelling while reading one of Jaelithe’s posts the other week, in which she raised the question (discussed with Andrea and, apparently, debated over at the Mom Trap, although I seem to have missed it, as I do everything these days) of whether lying to children undermines our credibility as parents. Do you tell your turkey-averse child that you’ve just put chicken on their plate for Thanksgiving dinner? Do you tell your child that Santa (or God) wants them to put their toys away? When your child asks, as Jaelithe’s did, about where the sun goes at the end of the day, do you tell them the truth or do you say, a la the Von Trapp children, that the sun has gone to bed and now must they?

I thought of my mother when I read this post because my mother, as should be clear from what I said above, never let the hard facts get in the way of a good story. She had it on good authority that the sun left our neighborhood at the end of the day so that he could go light up the neighborhoods of other children, who needed light so that they could play outside. She also had it on good authority that Curious George’s favorite food was lima beans, and that both God and Santa were always very happy when I picked up my toys.

The question is, was this deception? And if it was, does it matter?

In Plato’s Republic, the character of Socrates explains that there is a very great difference between a noble or fine lie, and a lie of the soul. The latter is the sort of lie that deceives in the most fundamental way – it turns a soul away from truth, puts that soul (understood as the seat of reason, among other things) on a path to ignorance. This is the worst kind of lie, because it corrupts the part of our being that is most uniquely human – that is, our reason, our ability (and desire) to seek out truth. The noble lie, on the other hand, tells the truth figuratively. Plato, among other classical philosophers, suggested that not every human soul was capable of perceiving and comprehending ‘truth,’ but that every human soul – every soul possessing the uniquely human faculty of reason, even in its most nascent form – could be turned toward truth. Set on the right path, oriented toward more correct opinions. Noble lies accomplish this work – they orient the souls of those who aren’t able, or are not yet able, to pursue truth directly.

When my mother told me that toadstools were shelters for magical creatures that I couldn’t see, she was, it might be argued, telling me a noble lie. Her lie did not obscure the truth; rather, it illuminated part of the truth for a mind that was not ready to perceive it in its fullness. Toadstools do indeed protect and nurture many creatures that human eyes cannot or do not see, and I should indeed be respectful of toadstools, and other flora and fauna, when I come across these. They are not mine to trample or use for my own amusement, and there is far greater potential stimulation to be gained from them in appreciating them as the remarkable works of nature that they are.

A very young child might not be capable of understanding the laws of planetary motion and the principles of a solar system, but she can understand that the sun has disappeared from our view, that it does so every day, and that it has something to do with the cycle of the day. We can explain that straightforwardly, or we can wrap it up in a story. Wrapping it up in a story presents the truth, or some portion of the truth, in terms that a child can understand. In terms that capture the child’s imagination, and so their curiosity.

There is something to be said for serving up the truth straighforwardly to children – for telling them the facts about the movement of the Earth and the sun, and the facts about the North Pole and about existence or non-existence of Tooth Fairies, and the truth about how little we know about what happens to us when we die. I certainly believe that we should never under-estimate childrens’ capacity for reason, and their ability to appreciate and understand ‘facts.’ And I believe strongly that the ‘truth’ – so far as I or anyone understands it – about the natural world and everything in it is as fascinating as story that my mother ever concocted.

But I think that what we gain from wrapping the truth in a story – and, occasionally, weaving fantastical tales that seem to incorporate no measure of truth – is this: we communicate to our children that the world is not prosaic, that it is a place of wonder. We teach them that the world, that life, holds many unanswered questions, and that even those questions that seem to have been settled are worth interrogating. We teach them to believe, and to doubt. We provoke their curiosity – we make them lovers of discovery, which in turn makes them lovers of wisdom. Philosophic puppies, as Socrates had it, but only in the best sense: joyfully bounding towards that which they do not know. Experiencing the unknown as an opportunity for play.

Still… my mother’s insistence, for years, that if I unscrewed my belly-button my bum would fall off is clearly an example of maternal deception. As was her insistence that there were never any mushrooms in her spaghetti sauce, that marshmallows were made of whipped cloud, and that if I lied the bottom of my tongue would turn black. And there’s an argument to be made that the belly-button lie might have contributed in some small part to some body-image confusion. But do these lies matter? My mother approached motherhood, and every second of interaction with her children, as an opportunity for fun, and my experience of childhood was entirely shaped by this ethos of laughter and discovery. And it had everything to do, too, with my love of story (supported, obviously, by the abundance of books in our household and frequent visits to libraries, but that’s another post.)

None of this is to say that deception qua deception, deception in the form of lies of the soul, should be embraced whole-heartedly. Only that it might have a place, alongside the nobler, poetic forms of lying, in making the worlds of our children rich and vibrant and alive with possibility.

What do you think?

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    { 58 comments }

    Karen Rani October 19, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    There’s a certain amount of innocence that must be perserved in children, and these tall tales are filled with wonder for that very reason. The truth about Santa, thunderstorms being the sounds of angels bowling, etc…all make for very good memories for me. I hope they do the same for my children.

    Mouse October 19, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    This is something I haven’t figured out. I haven’t had to do a lot of this with my son yet, though I find we are somewhat perpetuating the Santa myth.

    My initial response when asked a question is to explain it as truthfully, i.e. scientifically, as I can. This is not to say there’s no space for fantasy and fairy tales in my world–they’re some of my favorite reading material and there’s some part of my mind that perpetually dwells in that realm. I guess it’s more that the wonder of fantasy creeps into my science. I really am amazed that our planet is spinning and hurtling around the sun at speeds faster than I can truly comprehend and that this causes day and night.

    I think my son has my scientific mind. He observes his world and tries to systematize his findings. I suspect and hope that he will feel as I do–that the phenomenon of day and night is pretty cool in its own right, but isn’t it also fun to contemplate Apollo and Artemis driving the sun and moon across the sky?

    toyfoto October 19, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    I think there’s a huge difference between lies and colorful retelling of events that may never have happened.

    It’s not as if your mother told you there was WMD in the closet, right?

    Tori October 19, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    This whole subject weighed really heavily on my mind when I was pregnant with my first. My parents tried not to tell me lies/stories, and because of that, I was always the first to know the truth about the tooth fairy, etc. For some reason, my younger brother was not told the absolute truth, causing me to be slightly jealous of the magical world he was allowed to live in.

    So far for my own kids, I tell the stories (santa, etc.) labeled as something I once heard and then ask what they think. My oldest said she thought there was no way it was true, and when she asked me for an absolute answer, I told her the absolute truth. My twins still somewhat believe in magical things, and when they ask me what I think but don’t ask for an absolute answer, I turn it around and ask them what they think. It turns into a discussion and I still haven’t told an untruth. When they ask, I will tell them the truth, but for now I will just keep turning it to them to decide what is true from the stories I “have heard”. This whole post is very interesting to me, and I’ll be reading the comments to see what others think too.

    something blue October 19, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    I like living in a make believe world where anything is possible while being smart enough to recognize reality.

    Marshmallows are tiny whipped clouds.

    Kara October 19, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Children need fantasy. There are so many things they’re in no way equipped to handle. I candy coat things like death and illness because there’s no way she can understand those things. She asks me if I’m going to die (we’ve had people close to us die recently) and I don’t lie to her, but sometimes I feel like I should because she’s so afraid.

    no easy answers…

    Mayberry October 19, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    I think I love your mom, is what I think.

    Dana October 19, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Catherine, this post really made me feel like a child again, with my own grandparents always telling tall tales.

    Thank you for allowing me to get to know your own mother and childhood and to reminisce a bit of my own!

    =hugs galore=

    Joker The Lurcher October 19, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    while i understand where people are coming from, i chose a different way with my son. i was lied to quite a lot as a child and it left me very insecure about who and what to believe.

    so i decided i would never lie to my son and i can honestly say that i never have. stuff that was too difficult or adult i simply said it was grown up stuff and i would tell him when he was older.

    as it turns out this was a good policy as he was diagnosed as autistic at about 6 and he really needs certainty about things. he is now 11 and he knows i have always told him the truth about everything, including santa claus and the tooth fairy. we now answer all his questions but have to explain what is ok to talk about out of the family and what is inappropriate for school (on the way to school the other day topics included what lesbians do in bed and gender dismorphia!)

    this works for us but i think each family finds their own way of dealing with issues like this. there sure as hell is no recipe for this parenthood thing!

    PunditMom October 19, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    I love this post (and that you can still remember your Plato — I lost mine not so many years out of college!)

    The part that resonated with me is the desire to provide our children with opportunities to have fun an laughter and curiousity in their lives. It really hit me in the face a couple of weeks ago when Rachel turned to me, and said, completely unconnected to what we were doing at the moment, “Mommy, why don’t you smile very much?”

    Too much discipline. Time for more more fun.

    Mamalooper October 19, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    I like the stories and the fantasy and the laughter and the fun. I’d rather try to climb into my daughter’s world of fantasy and pretend than bring it all crashing down for her by being “truthful”.

    One of my mother’s less than stellar traits was doing something that I pegged from a young age as pricking pins in other people’s balloons. Yes OF COURSE, I wasn’t going to dig a hole to China in the back lane. And I probably WASN’T going to be a ballerina/broadway actress/firetruck. Nor could I live in the snow fort that I built. But geez, lemme have some dreams for at least a little while.

    So count me on the side of fantasy and fun.

    Mrs. Chicky October 19, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    I think your mother is a trip and I love her.

    If not for these “white lies” where would kids get the idea of Santa Claus or the Easter bunny? Do we really want to tell our kids at a young age what thunder really is or do we want to tell them that it’s giants in the sky moving their furniture or bowling? There are limits but the occasional story isn’t going to hurt.

    nomotherearth October 19, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    I don’t pretend to be any kind of authority on the subject, but I believe that creativity breeds creativity. Children need to live in this make-believe world to some extent, if want to drive home the idea that anything is possible if you only believe. They will have to deal with stark reality all too soon, so why impose it on them now?

    I taught at a drama camp for kids aged 6-12 and some of them were so literal that I kept getting asked “Why are we pretending to be a bear/cat/dog/lion?” I really had no answer for that, “because it’s fun”. I had never questioned the need to ‘play pretend’.

    I keep the basic facts now with the Boy, because he need to know rudimentary facts about the world. When he gets older, I’ll be the one making up ‘creative versions of the truth’ to be sure.

    MotherBumper October 19, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    And here I thought I was the only one who was told that my butt would fall off if my bellybutton was unscrewed. My Mother fostered a world of make-believe for us through making the everyday magical, and do I consider my woodland tales to be lies? no. The legends my mother borrowed from were usually Mi’kmaq teachings of Glooscap and she did this to hopefully create a respect for other’s beliefs, heritage of the Canadian people, and of course nature. By using “tall” tales she made it more interesting and captivating for us and most importantly maintained our imagination that so many lose as they age. It’s a fine balance but all lessons need to be age-appropriate, so if toadstool houses and Glooscap work so be it. It’s when the tales and fibs are used to cover up the “need to know”, it becomes muddy.

    Magical fairy lands are needed to spark the imagination!

    Kristi October 19, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    My husband used to tell the kids he could make them a year younger if they had any more bathroom accidents.

    He’d also tell them he could take off their feet.

    Not exactly what you were referring too…and borderline abusive. My family’s messed up.

    metro mama October 19, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    What a thought-provoking question. I think I need to be honest about the big stuff when I can, but I can see the room for “noble lies”. I guess it depends on the kid (their age, temperment) as well as the parent too (Sean and I are not the most creative people).

    Fidget October 19, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    When I pick up a book to read to my children it’s not often about the molecular structure of elements or teh intricate inner workings of teh heart. At 3 and 4 they can not wrap their minds around these concepts. I think that the thoughtful weaving of fantasy into reality is a way to engage children in the world around them, arouse curiosity and promote learning. SO long as it is not done maliciously I see no harm or foul.

    sweatpantsmom October 19, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    “…we communicate to our children that the world is not prosaic, that it is a place of wonder.” You hit the nail on the head right there. (Although, to some people there is no ‘nail’ to ‘hit.’)

    How boring life would be without gnomes, Santa, the Tooth Fairy and toadstools! My girls are growing up and wising up and have been asking about Santa, but I simply tell them, “As long as you want to believe in him, he’s real.” They’ve already started on their lists.

    kittenpie October 19, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Oh, I think some magic and fantasy and goofiness makes childhood more, well, childlike. It’s usually pretty clear when I’m being a bit silly, and pumpkinpie will jump right in on that. I also think it goes along with any other form of imaginative play – manipulating little rubber animals and dolls, pretending to be doctors, mommies, builders, etc. It all develops imagination, and ability to think outside the self you know, a creative way of thinking.

    bubandpie October 19, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    In Hard Times, Dickens wrote of the dire consequences of an educational philosophy that privileges reason and science to the exclusion of imagination and wonder. And we’re not far from that now, with the way a child’s imagination is stifled by over-scheduling that leaves no time for pretend.

    I am in awe of your mom – I don’t feel at all confident that I have her gift for investing the world with a sense of wonder. Maybe we don’t need that gift, though – our children come equipped with that capacity and we just have to avoid stamping it out.

    I think we should start a Society for the Promotion of Lying to Children. And the only kinds of lies that are prohibited are self-serving lies (which includes some uses of Santa, of course, and even of God). If we’re not lying to serve our own convenience, then why are we doing it at all? Most probably, from the sheer delight of telling a good story. And that is a very good thing.

    Desitin's Child October 19, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    Good question.

    I like the stories that are just for fun, whimsy, fantasy, imagination. Why /shouldn’t/ the forest creatures have a town hall meeting?

    I don’t like the ones that are meant to curb the kid’s behavior (“Santa won’t bring you toys if you’re not obedient”) or that send a dubious message: my dad used to pretend to pound us on the head, saying he was going to slow us down from growing up too fast. Always made me feel sort of guilty for something I had no control over.

    Trick is to know which ones are which. Not always obvious – like how do you (or do you) explain why things die?

    T. October 19, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    I think I would love to meet your mommy.

    I have been known to explain the function of dragonflies as the fairies horses, mushrooms as thrones, and slithering snakes as the fairies messengers.

    But I have also been known to squash a myth (the toothfairy) and play with their little minds when it comes to Santa.

    But explaining what happens to their little brother when he died, and where he is, is something that I haven’t managed to conjure..

    Sigh…

    Melissa October 19, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    I call it giving them a little magic in a very unmagical world. It’s not exactly lying it’s using your imagination. And I’ll tell you I’ve told my kids some whoppers, but when they (well Maya at this point) ask me for the truth, I always give it to them. But in the meantime, I figure I’m letting them have a childhood, what little of it there is these days.

    Melissa October 19, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    Oh and your mommy rocks.

    Laural Dawn October 19, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    I loved that.
    I fully agree that such magical stories should be told over and over again.
    My mother struggled with the notion of Santa – and fought with my (paternal) grandparents that we should not be told that Santa existed. She thought it was lying.
    As a grandmother she has embraced Santa. Not because her decision was wrong, but perhaps because she appreciated that the magic of Christmas was in that tale. (My sister and I were allowed to sit on Santa’s knee and told never to tell children it was a fairy tale).
    I think weaving the magical stories just make childhood wonderful.
    I like your mom!!!

    lara October 19, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    life is crappy for me these days, so producing a well-thought-out, well-written comment is a bit beyond my current grasp. but know that i love your writing, and i loved this post, and i think you are right on. thanks for being so cool.

    jen October 19, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    i think we should fill this world with as much wonder and magis as possible for as long as possible….absolutely.

    that said, when my reservoir runs dry, i struggle, retreat, and unimaginate.

    Annie, The Evil Queen October 19, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    I think the Noble lies often make up the best of family stories and traditions.

    In my family, your bum fell off if you pressed your belly button.

    tallulah October 19, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    Wonderbaby, never underestimate your Mom. She is SO on track!

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    Kristen October 20, 2006 at 12:22 am

    I was told I was found in a garbage can. I loved it because, as I informed everyone…”my parents CHOSE me!”

    Penny October 20, 2006 at 1:49 am

    I also knew that my sister and I came from a cabbage patch, and that if we unscrewed our bellybuttons, our bums would fall off.

    ROFLMAO!!

    jchevais October 20, 2006 at 5:18 am

    Agree with Bub and Pie. Nowadays, I spend my time editing what I tell my kids to preserve their imaginations. I wish that I could crawl into their heads where anything and everything is possible.

    This morning, I was reflecting on how imagination in children is possibly at an all time low. What with TV, video games and computers. Arrggghh.

    I would like to be a mom like your mom was. To have grown up in a magical world. How lucky you are.

    I suppose it depends on the child, the parent and the tall-tale/lie. For example, I seriously doubt that my son will be psychologically scarred by the fact that I told him that the Spiderman cologne he put on smelled like spiders. In fact, he was ecstatic.

    TB October 20, 2006 at 8:15 am

    Yes, I think a world filled with wonder and possibility in which their imaginations roam freely is the best gift we can give a young child.
    Absolutely. Harsh reality is better suited for adults and unfortunately it sets in soon enough.
    And your mother sounds like the kind of mom I hope to be someday. What a lovely childhood you must have had.

    crazymumma October 20, 2006 at 9:58 am

    Shit, If I unscrew my bellybutton and my bum drops off you are going to hear the boom all the way over at your place. Sorry got side tracked there…
    I think it is wonderful for children to live in a world of fantasy. In our house we encourage a belief in the magical, and more importantly, the possible….
    That being said, and as you well know from my downer posts of late, there are some hard and sorry truths they need to know to negotiate our crazy world.

    Your mum sounds fun.

    Ummmm, and does anyone have a good answer about all of those freakin’ mall Santas?

    Julie Pippert October 20, 2006 at 10:11 am

    Flora isn’t for our amusement? Oh rats! Wherever shall I dispose of all of the dissected mushrooms from yesterday?

    Mall santas aren’t the real santas. I said this from the get-go. I told DD one person can’t do all teh work alone. She’d never have bought that anyway, my little Skeptic (you know, default scientific position). So she understands that the mall Santas are there representing Santa. They work for the Santa Cause, like Daddy has people who work for him.

    In other words, we just relate it to the world she knows. And she’s very concrete, in a Romantic sort of way. So it’s tailored to her.

    Lying? I better not. Not to my kids. They’ll run it through their own personal CSI lab and find me out and confront me under a bright light.

    We *imagine* things. We like to do that. Imagine if the tiniest fairy ever lived under the mushroom and had an even tinier cat.

    We tell *stories.* And when you walk through the invisible magic door here you find a land of dragons.

    And there is *space.* This is turkey, but try a bite and see what you think.

    So far mostly so good. Kinda. Time will tell.

    I do this, BTW, because I was lied and prevaricated to a lot as a child and knew it, and despised it.

    I think it depends on the kid.

    I took it as a trick and so does DD. And as perfectionistic thinkers, it cuts us to the core.

    Julie Pippert October 20, 2006 at 10:15 am

    I should add, in my own defense, that although we are pretty honest and forthright, it is about things. Ideas are wide-open. And like I said, we imagine a lot. I think within science there is a TREMENDOUS sense of wonder, and many things a child has to simply believe in.

    And I don’t hold forth purely and completely on every subject. Many things I leave up to her, to think critically through and decide for herself, and many things I simply don’t bring up until in some way I know she’s ready and it is time.

    I suppose one day she’ll tell me she never believed in Santa Claus but thoguht it was good fun to pretend.

    As I did.

    mad_hatter October 20, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    Beautful, amazing post and what a stupend-tabulous mother you had!

    Was it not Oscar Wilde in “The Decay of Lying” who said that the true function of the artist is to lie and that the true purpose of conversation is to entertain not to instruct? That way lies truth.

    I don’t imagine that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s mother told him just the facts. I don’t imagine that anyone’s appreciation of art or literature comes from being shown a prosaic view of the world around them. I firmly believe that magic must, must, must reside in every object we encounter in the day. The truth will come to those who seek it but it will be a richer truth if it is framed by artful lies.

    I know that I, myself, would rather see a “still unravished bride of quietness, a foster child of silence a slow time” than an old jug any day.

    Here’s to art, here’s to poetry, here’s to a revival of capital “R” Romaniticism.

    Having said all that, I will tell my daughter the real name of her vulva and I will explain where babies come from–perhaps while weaving tall tales into the process.

    Thanks again for this great post.

    mad_hatter October 20, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Oh and I will add that my Romanitics prof in university always said “a man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a metaphor.” — a nice retake on the Browning original.

    Jaelithe October 20, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    For a fuller perspective on my full perspective on this subject, those of you who are not regular readers of my blog might want to read this post (still sorry I never finished the meme for you, Debbie).

    As you can see, I am not actually opposed to making up fun fantasy tales for children. I just often wonder where one ought to draw the line. I often feel I am getting lazy as a parent, and glossing over or making up stories about questions that my son might actually be able to comprehend the answer to, not out of a desire to imbue him with a sense of magic, but just because making up a story is easier than actually THINKING about how to explain something to him in a way he’ll understand.

    I do feel guilty when I lie about food. I feel guiltly, but I do it anyway. I get the feeling 99% of mothers would do the same were they in my position (meaning, the position of having watched your plump, healthy child come home after a “minor” surgery and proceed to starve himself over the course of a year to a nigh-skeletal spectre of his former self, despite constantly being offered an abundance of healthy, tasty food.

    If I knew for certain it would cure my son’s food aversion and bring him back to a healthy weight, I might even consider voting Republican in the mid-terms in two weeks.

    Hey, I said consider, okay? I didn’t say I’d do it :P ).

    Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    I see absolutely no harm in the sorts of stories your mom told you as a child. I would have loved to have grown up in your house. Over lunch, Jaelithe and I discussed if the post on The Mom Trap had any validity, that the white lies weren’t so white. After having thought this over and after reading her post, a previous post she wrote about a dragon egg story her mother told her, and now your post, I think there is a time for the white lies, and a time to tell the stark truth. But I like the idea that the white lies are a form of directing someone toward the truth, since behind the white lie is a desire for the betterment of the person (in this case child) lied to, a way for them to begin to comprehend the fullness of a situation in their own way. That rings true to me. And after reading such an enchanting post, I have no desire to censor the magic from my son’s childhood in fear of losing my own credibility with him.

    Andrea (http://littlebalddoctors.wordpress.com)

    CrankMama October 20, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    I think fantasy and magical story-telling is my favorite part of raising children… and their natural wonder fills me with joy.

    nonlineargirl October 20, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    Being too lazy to read through 42 other comments, I recognize this may have been said before I got here –
    Without commenting on whether your mother’s type of lies are necessary in order to do so, I do think it is good for a child to see the world as a “place of wonder”. The nurturing of this idea in a child is important for the child’s own good, and also because so much of what is enjoyable about parenting is getting to see things in a new way through your child’s experience of the world. Encouraging this sense of possibility and joy helps us as parents see the world this way too.

    Grim Reality Girl October 20, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    I think your mom is fun. I think I view things in a similar manner. Joy and wonder should be encouraged. Going into facts and full disclosure with young children can sometimes dampen the wonder. Revealing information as needed can be a way to preserve childhood wonder while still being truthful…

    MommyWithAttitude October 20, 2006 at 6:28 pm

    That’s a great post! I think I am way way way too careful about telling my kids “the truth.” Part of it is my husband is not big on fantasies, fairy tales, religious explanations and the like… but you’ve just inspired me to lighten up a little bit in that regard.

    Julie Pippert October 20, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    You guys are killing me.

    Why is it assumed that The Truth carries no joy or wonder and is “tight” (versus lightened up)?

    Jaelithe IMO makes an excellent point, “glossing over or making up stories about questions that my son might actually be able to comprehend the answer to, not out of a desire to imbue him with a sense of magic, but just because making up a story is easier than actually THINKING about how to explain something to him in a way he’ll understand.”

    The Truth can be quite wonderful and amazing. It can also be quite hard to explain in an age-appropriate way.

    But I think in general we owe our kids an honest explanation to an honest question.

    This requires me to admit sometimes that I don’t know, and we’ll have to go see.

    I see many “creative lying” parents and IMO it is sometimes indicative of too lazy to handle it.

    One friend is the Creative Master Liar. She tells her kids there are snakes on the floor when lights go out to keep her kids in bed.

    Guess what? Works the first time.

    Much easier than my Multiple Step plan of teaching the kids they must choose to lay down and sleep.

    I’m not saying it is inherently lazy parenting.

    And I understand the distinction.

    But seriously, when I tell my kid, “Don’t pick all the flowers,” and she asks, “Why?”

    I don’t think I suck the joy or magic of childhood from her when I say, “Because they’ll die and turn brown.”

    And the major adjective to describe my child? Creative. Followed closely by Imaginative.

    Wonder how that happens, this creatively imaginative romantic child…hemmed in by all this truth I tell.

    Her Bad Mother October 20, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Julie, I don’t think that anyone is suggesting that the ‘Truth’ – whaever that means – is dry and dull. I’m not, anyway. On the contrary – is there anything so remarkable as physics? Astronomy? (Though I myself got turned on to astronomy as a science after hearing the ancient stories about Orion and Cassiopaeia – I asked for a telescope for my 7th birthday.) I think that where stories are most useful are in those areas where we either don’t have the answer, or the full, scientific answer is perhaps a bit complicated. In either case, I think that stories are greatest, as I said, when they *point* at the truth, when they tell the truth in accessible or interesting terms. And beyond this, I think that there’s plenty of room for gilding the truth, making it poetic, as has been done over the centuries. My mother certainly told me that flowers (or toadstools) would die if I picked them, and she told me (more or less) why. But she gilded that explanation with a fantastical story about all the other cretaures who depended on it and who would be sad. Unnecessary, for sure. But magical.

    I want to be clear, too, that I’m not arguing that having Lewis Carroll as a parent is a prerequisite for imagination or creativity. I don’t think that children *need* fanciful stories about secret gardens or witches in wardrobes or what have you. I just think that they’re nice.

    Haley-O October 20, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    I think literary critics often turn to this part of the Republic when speaking of Plato’s apparent ambivalence toward poetry and the poet. How fitting that you evoke it in this discussion. Lovely! And, lovely choice of art in this post.

    I think your mother did you a great service. How special and magical — the way a child’s life should be (and an adult’s!). I think your mother gave you a gift by sharing her imagination with you. This isn’t at all deception. There was such noble truth in her “lies” — she taught you, through them, to respect the environment and others. How inspiring. :)

    Haley-O October 20, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    That belly-button “lie” is too much. Lol! She’s a funny lady!!

    vasilisa October 21, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    I think there is a fine line between a lie, and a tale… I remember as kids in kindergarten we were told that a wicked witch was caught on the roof of our building, and is now been boiled outside, and we should not go there. None of us did. We were scared to pieces. In reality they were fixing the roof and boiling some resin. But I’m sure that if we were told that, somebody would definitely go to explore what “resin” is, and how it boils…

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