Friday, April 5, 2013


I try the handle on the bathroom door. It's locked. "Ethan, what are you doing in there?" I say with growing suspicion. No answer. Then the sink turns on, for a long time. Way too long. "What are you doing?" I demand again. Still no answer, and then, one of the most weighted words a child can ever say, in the small voice that implies just the opposite..."Nothing!"

Lying is a serious infraction in our house. With Anna, we've reiterated that there is almost nothing as disappointing as when she chooses to lie to us. I'm sometimes amazed at how easily the lies roll off her tongue. Really, I'm amazed at how inventive, how effortlessly most kids lie.

And then we have Ethan. Oh, Ethan.

How sad is it, first of all, that lying is a milestone; a sign of typical development? I'm reminded of a report on 60 Minutes I saw not long ago, on a fascinating study done at Yale that appeared to prove  babies are not naturally sweet and innocent but very obviously sinful -- biased, preferring revenge, self-seeking.

Yes, lying is a sorry part of the human condition. Some tend to pull it off better than others. I am a horrible liar. I just can't do it. My eyes shift all over the place, my voice gets weird, and inside my conscience screams. I have a laundry list of faults and failings, for sure, but being deceptive is not one of them.

And so, Ethan. He tends to move through certain developmental stages at a snail's pace, giving a bird's eye view of all of the little steps that go into one complete milestone. I'd never really thought to analyze what goes into telling a good lie. Now I see that there is, indeed, a lot. Especially, as his Favorite Therapist in the World used to say, for a boy who "telegraphs" everything mischievous he's going to do before (or just after) he's done it.

The other morning, I told Ethan Angry Birds were done and that it was time for breakfast. He responded with wails and protests that he wasn't hungry. He's always "not hungry" when he's asked to stop doing something he really wanted to be doing. The appetite "magically" returns once he's calmed down.

This time, though, he wasn't calming down, because there was something he had been trying to unlock in Angry Birds, and he hadn't had a chance to do it. And so, he wasn't hungry, breakfast was terrible, the bagel smelled weird.

"I can't eat this!" he protested.

"You will eat at least some of your breakfast," I replied. "You like bagels." I went into the other room to do something. A few minutes later he came bouncing in.

"You're done?" I asked, incredulously. "You ate your bagel?"

"Yup. I ate my breakfast," he answered happily.

"I think I'm going to go check," I said, heading towards the other room.

"No!!" he shouted. "Don't go in there!" And then, panicked, "Don't look in the trash can!"

I open the lid. Sitting on top were two bagel halves, completely whole. Not a bite taken.

"We'll get this thing down. He'll get it eventually," I'm always saying about Ethan and certain milestones. I can't say I'm rooting for Pinocchio. But lately every time I'm trying to remember that lying is a serious thing in our house, I'm simultaneously trying not to laugh.

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