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December 11, 2018

Why I Lie to My Children

I am a liar. I am also a good mom. I think about this as I walk through the doors of Whole Foods. How, the supermarket is the last place I expected I would need to lie to my son.

The shopping trip begins innocently enough. We walk the aisles, along with my fellow hunters and gatherers – single men buying a loaf of bread and maybe some bananas; toddlers yelling as they take out their need for sleep on a packet of double stuffed Oreos; a teenager, having just learned to drive, gripping a bag of Cheetos and a pack of gum. Then there are the moms, weaving through the aisles, their carts overflowing with a week’s worth of multipacks for a family of five or just in for just a gallon of milk (and whatever else they can pick up between the dairy section and checkout line).

Today, I am that mom; in for just a few items, but filling my cart with un-necessities. I round the corner and push my cart into what I perceive to be the quickest cashier line with the added perk of the over-wide space. Putting my grocery items on the belt while keeping one eye on my ten-year-old son, I make small talk with the cashier. Her name is Denise and her long bleached blond hair, reminds me of sun worshiping summer days on the beach, well before I had children and the need for weekly supermarket visits.

A mom in the next aisle catches my eye, her baby asleep in the carrier, another toddler in tow. I toss a smile at her, a kind glance that unexpectedly pulls at my heartstrings. Memories play a gentle game of tug of war between the sweet sorrow of gratitude for no longer needing a glass of wine after food shopping with two kids under three, and missing my daughters’ company, now grown and off to college.

I continue to unload my items, along with my thoughts of how I remember college. Back in the eighties, it was easier to stay in the college bubble, as we did not have to worry about mass shootings, a president mis-leading the country or how plastic is destroying our oceans.

“Ma’am? Paper or plastic?”

“Paper.” I utter as the woman behind me in line sighs loudly. Feeling her frustration, I look away, saying nothing. I tend to do this, mind my own business, especially when a stranger is tossing dirty looks in my direction.

My son has other plans. Now wedged perfectly between myself and the woman, he grabs my shirt sleeve, “Mom, did you get the ground turkey?”

We cannot fulfill all our children’s dreams, so I like to take on the easy ones; the ones that involve what they want for dinner and allowing them to stay up an extra half hour, just because. In some strange way, this makes his disappointment that he will likely not be an astronaut or an NBA basketball player, a little easier for me to bear. Silly, perhaps, but it helps me sleep a bit better at night.

I glance feverishly at the conveyor belt. Yes, it appears that I have forgotten the ground turkey. Crossing my arms for protection, I slowly look up, and take a deep breath before uttering the dreaded words to the woman behind me, “Excuse me. Do you mind if I quickly grab something I forgot?”

I know that look. If she were seventeen, I would have gotten an eye roll or the slamming of a door. Or worse, she could have exploded, shoving me out of the way with her cart, crossing that imaginary line that many in our world today, seem to blindly ignore. Instead, her face reddens as she utters, “I have been waiting twenty minutes, what’s a few more?”

I glance from my son back to the woman. Although I hate conflict as much as supermarket previously roasted chicken that is always dried out no matter how juicy it looks under the warmer, I make my decision. I am being pulled into the ring, and this is round one.

Ding.

Before lacing up my old running sneakers (in my mind), I make eye contact with the cashier/referee who gives me a Good luck half smile. Or perhaps it is a – You are on your own; I have a party to go to later –look? Either way, I take off. Like a speed walker that also has to pee, I scan the aisles furiously. Passing the jars of applesauce, hundreds of bottles of olive oil and endless packages of pasta, I come upon the meat section. Relief washes over me. Near the end of the paper goods aisle, sandwiched between the marrow bones and grass-fed organic red meat, I grab hold of the glorious, perfectly packaged, humanely grown, vegetarian fed, hormone and antibiotic free, overpriced, ground turkey.

Ding. Round two.

On my way back, I think about what Bell and Evans forgot to mention on their packaging. How they allow the turkeys to sleep on down feather pillows and listen to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody before turning in for the night. More fantasies erupt as I see myself telling the impatient woman that she was waiting close to four minutes, not twenty, or that I was actually back in 17 seconds, better than any hundred-yard sprint I ever had. Yes, I tell her life is short, and what’s the rush?

I know better. I am not that person, who says it like it is. I am a liar. And this is not about me. This whatever it is, started earlier in her day, or week, or maybe in her life. I cannot solve her problems or the world’s today, but I can help my son make better sense of the turbulent, often nasty world we now live in. I can continue to lie to him to help him stay in the bubble where people are kind, and life is good.

Handing the meat to the cashier, I put my credit card chip in its temporary home before weaving my paper bag filled grocery cart through the parking lot. A moment after getting in the car, my son tells it like is. “That lady behind us was not nice.”

Ding. Round three.

When my kids were young, I dragged out the lies. Beginning with the tooth fairy, then moving on to Santa Claus. We smiled as we watched Rudolph overcome bullying and clapped when Belle fell in love with the beast. Superheroes flying through the air captivated us, while treasures waiting to be discovered on the ocean floor gave us hope. Lies are everywhere within fictional stories helping us to become lost within their wondrous beginnings and unlikely endings.

I look at my son in the rear view mirror. “Yes, she was not nice, but perhaps there was a good reason.”

Sure, as our kids grow, they will receive a dose of reality because their minds figure out all those fantastic, fun lies we told them. Like how the tooth fairy did not find it difficult to open the window, but the real reason, her note and gift was left by the downstairs sliding glass door was because mommy fell asleep in front of the television and forgot.

We cannot control the world for our children, but we can help our children change how they view it. Just as I offer the explanation that when an ambulance passes, that a mom is having a baby, I do my best to help thwart that common association we all have when an ambulance races by – OMG who is dying? Whose family life is changing forever?

“Why was she so mean, mom?” My son asks, quietly.

I take a few more moments before responding. Opening the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups I impulsively bought at check out, I think about the you got your chocolate in my peanut butter commercials, it’s jingle embedded in my memory. As humans we all create associations every day, why not make them good ones? Even if we need to lie in order to get there.

“I bet that woman just lost her job.”

My son nods while adding, “Or maybe her favorite dress got a pizza stain and now she can’t wear it anymore.”

Ding. Round four.

“Yes,” I agree, as more excuses ranging from her the burnt pie she lost track of in the oven to losing her favorite ball on the roof, left my lips. The exchange with my son continues as we put away the groceries.

“She turned all her white laundry pink because of that one red sock.” I laugh.

My son belts out, “She didn’t get the Nerf gun she wanted for her birthday.”

Stirring the turkey chili, I wonder if it really is lying when I offer up an explanation for another’s rudeness. Maybe my son is simply going to need another way of thinking when he enters middle school next year, the ultimate test in life, when hormones elbow their way into children’s bodies creating monster emotions where there were once only tepid feelings. Yes, maybe I am simply inoculating him from contagious viral negativity in the world while helping him to see the bright side of life.

As I spoon out the chili into three bowls, I imagine a different ending to the supermarket experience.

The woman waits patiently behind me, as she thinks about her grown children coming over for a swim in her pool, her grandchildren’s faces smeared from their perfectly cut off crusts of peanut butter and jelly. I take my time unloading my cart, and all the plastic bags are replaced by biodegradable ones made from corn. There are no more shootings of innocent victims. I hum a few tunes; starting with Are you Happy and you Know it? The woman behind me joins in. We smile and feel good to be alive. I look up as an ambulance passes and we both nod and think, someone’s having a baby.

“Thank you for dinner,” my son utters, happy, content, safe. He trots off to shower, no longer thinking about the mean woman.

Ding. Knock out.

In our bubble, life slows down. And that imaginary line is once again drawn in the sand as we all laugh while playing beneath the hot summer sun.

We all have ways of surviving, living beyond reality. Why not jump into one where happily ever after actually happen? Where puppies get delivered in Christmas boxes, already roasted supermarket chicken is juicy, and ice cream drips down our fingers on warm summer nights. And the person behind us in the supermarket always smiles and utters,  “Sure, go get your ground turkey, I am in no rush.”

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