Dear Dave

Wednesday 20 June 2007

The lies we tell our children

Dear Dave,

Glad to hear you got some peace and quiet on Father's Day too. It was a good day for putting your feet up and watching some sport, what with the tennis, golf, cricket and Formula 1. I'm slightly envious (well quite a lot envious, actually) about your recent upgrade to Sky HD but it's a wise move - once offspring number 2 arrives you won't be getting out much. Best to make yourself comfortable. It might even mean you have something other than phone-in quizzes to watch at 3 a.m. while you're sitting up with a grouchy baby. (Yeah, right... Better start stocking up on DVDs as well).

Everything's in chaos here thanks to the water damage but we're getting by. I'm tired, though. Marie tripped over in the lounge the other day and gave herself a slight bang on the arm. Being two-and-a-half, she couldn't just give it a quick rub, she insisted on me kissing it better. Thanks to the stress of the house dissolving, I was exhausted and was sprawled in the armchair trying to grab a couple of minutes rest. Sad to say, I couldn't be bothered to bend down to her level. I suggested that she kiss her arm better herself.

She wasn't too sure about that but she reluctantly gave it a go. It didn't work. Only I would do. I summoned up my reserves of parental strength and leaned over to give her elbow a very brief, but very loud, kiss. She was instantly healed and bounced off, smiling. I slumped back in my chair, thankful at least that she hadn't bitten her tongue and asked me to rub it better. (I hate that).

A few minutes later she managed to whack her chin off a toy and she came running over for another kiss. I was feeling more alive by then and I was intrigued by the details of this magical healing process. I decided to conduct an experiment. Once again, I suggested she kiss it better herself. She didn't seem bothered by the practicalities of this but was certain it wouldn't work anyway. She demanded a kiss. I tried blowing it to her. That helped but she was still sore. She demanded a kiss...

So I taught her to use her cheeks as bongos.

This worked a treat and she charged off happily, feeling much better. When I told Sarah about it later, however, she wasn't too impressed. Apparently getting my daughter to slap herself (gently) about the face was a misuse of power, even in the name of science.

She's probably right.

It did make me think, though. I try very hard not to lie to my children. I either tell them the truth or explain that they're not old enough to know. Sometimes that means extra challenges for me. Fraser's already had some sex education because he asked pertinent questions and I didn't want to fob him off. I've had to argue at length the fictitious nature of a certain red-coated Christmas individual with Lewis. I don't avoid conflict by pretending there's a chance we might get a puppy or an enormous inflatable waterslide or Coco Pops Straws or a time machine.

I try very hard not to lie but... The whole 'kiss it better' thing implies that I think a kiss will actually make things better. Then there are other things I say that stretch the truth somewhat:

What I say. - What I really mean.

You're all right. - You'll have to fall over harder than that if you want any sympathy from me.
This won't hurt much. - This will hurt.
It's good for you. - It tastes of seaweed.
The TV's tired. - That's quite enough Numberjacks for today, thankyou very much.
You need to get some sleep. - Daddy needs to go play the Xbox.
I'll be there in a couple of minutes. - Your demands for attention are important to us but all of our service operatives are busy at this time. Please hold...

I should really try harder. They might argue, but children can be told things straight. Being up-front with my kids will pay dividends in the long run. If I'm open with them, the hope is that they'll be open with me.

Which is easier said than done... I want them to be happy. I don't want to upset them. Often I just want a quiet life. More than that, sometimes the truth is just hard to find. Marie really believes kisses have healing powers and who am I to argue? Occasionally a bit of compromise seems the only the way to go:

Last night she scraped her ankle and got me to kiss it better. I did kiss it but she just became more unhappy - her ankle was still sore. I told her that sometimes kisses take a day or two to work. She cheered up a bit. Then I gave her some chocolate. It turns out chocolate has magical healing powers too.

Of course, I know from experience with the boys, her perception of the truth will change as she gets bigger. She'll start experimenting on me to find out what I really think. She'll start taking dives in order to get a chocolate biscuit. She'll start playing rules off each other: If she isn't allowed dessert unless she eats all her other food, but food dropped on the floor goes in the bin, can she feed her food to the bin and skip straight to the cake?

At some point, she will grow up. She will understand my version of the truth and my concept of how the world works but she will be content with her own. Hopefully, however, if I'm as honest as I can be, we'll still be able to talk about things even when she's a lot older.

In the meantime, she'll probably just humour me. I'll stub my toe and she'll use my face as a percussion instrument to make me feel better... I really should be more careful what I say.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Check out this article in The Guardian about housedads if you haven't already. They quote a guy who sounds just like me. It's freaky...


Anonymous said...

Hemp has magical healing powers....

Kellen said...

"Paternal involvement in childcare isn't unprecedented. Two hundred years ago, William Cobbett moved to the country so his children could enjoy a healthy outdoor life and be educated by him at home."

Love how this quote implies that the only precedent to this stay-at-home-dad is some guy 200 years in the past.

DadsDinner said...

Even better than that, the article goes on to mention that Cobbett didn't even put a hold on his career. Presumably he just handed the kids over to a housemaid and then dropped by every so often to check how they were getting on with their Latin verb declension.

Clearly a role model for us all...