The Real World, the New Jersey Episode

Parents: Do you ever get the feeling that, no matter how progressive you think you are, no matter how you’ve sworn not to make certain mistakes, no matter how enlightened your theories on parenting are, that somehow, in practice, you are actually Fucking It All Up? That no matter what you do, somehow your kids are going to be Screwed Up Beyond Your Control?

Today was just such a day for me.

My daughter is not yet 4, and somehow I am finding myself worried about her future, a future that, if current trends carry forward, will be filled with shades of grey when it comes to Telling the Truth.

Punksin generally tells the truth. Generally.

She also has a habit of coming and announcing things to us, a dead giveaway that she is lying through her damn teeth. Let me give you an example: one day, I was in the kitchen while Pudding and Punksin were in the living room, she on the couch, he bouncing the hell out of his Exersaucer. All of a sudden, in runs Punksin, grinning. Then she sort of caught herself, stopped grinning, and said:

“Mommy, I didn’t push Pudding’s cheeks together like this, I didn’t.” At which point she demonstrated what she hadn’t done by mushing her own face rather violently with both hands.

See? A lie.

Another time?

“Mommy, I didn’t try to lift Pudding up.”

Right.

The giveaway is that she comes, completely unbidden, to tell us what she hasn’t done, answering questions that have never been asked.

Today, though, was a different kind of untruth.

We started with her announcement, when I picked her up at school, that she did not like what I had given her for lunch (the ham sandwich).

Okay.

Then we got into the car and she found some Valentine crap candy that one of her friends gave her yesterday, and of course wanted to eat it. I said no, explaining that because she’d hardly eaten anything healthy all day, we weren’t about to launch into a diet of sugar.

Punksin: “But I ate my lunch.”

Me: “But I thought you said you didn’t like it.”

Punksin: “But I did like it.”

Me: “So…why did you tell me you didn’t like it if you did?”

Punksin: “It was an accident.”

At this point, of course, I’m thinking that of course she’s saying she ate her lunch because she wants candy. But even when I tell her that either way, there’s no candy, and that it’s okay if she didn’t like her lunch, she holds hard to that story – that she liked it, that she ate it, and that she has no idea why she said she didn’t like it just 5 minutes ago.

So I launch into a spiel about telling the truth, and how important it is to tell us the truth All The Time so that we can trust her. I tell her that lying can’t really be an accident, since by definition an accident is something we didn’t mean to do or didn’t know we were doing. And she has to know immediately whether or not she ate her lunch or if she even liked it, no?

Part of my fear, I realize, is that she will turn into one of my relatives, a grown woman whose statements have gone beyond lying and straight into self-delusional pychosis. In a way, she’s not lying when she fabricates her bullshit, because she psyches herself into believing that her drama is the truth. She’d probably pass any lie detector test out there.

This is not what I want for my daughter. I want her to live in the real world, not in her own fucking Matrix.

But how do I ensure this? How do I make sure that this doesn’t happen? Will my little lesson resonate with her at all, take root and grow into something that keeps her on the Straight and Narrow, or will it just drive her more into The World According to Punksin?

Of course, I’m also afraid that even if she doesn’t turn into a Drama Queen, that she’ll be one of those Lying Teenagers who sneaks out of windows at night and smokes pot and is generally degenerate. And don’t get me wrong: I know that there is going to be some stuff she will lie about. We all did it. I know that there is going to be stuff I am clueless about, stuff I am slightly suspicious of but can’t prove, stuff that she does that I can’t control. Again, we all did it. But how do I make sure that she navigates that stuff safely, that she knows how far to go and goes no farther, that, like Odysseus, she hears the various siren songs of life but comes out on the other side with her character, future, and sense of self intact?

This question comes up often for me. I want to be sure I’m doing this right and yet I know there are no guarantees. Parenting is about skills and tactics and theories and of course a shitload of loving – but at the end of the day it includes guiding and molding the character and spirit of another human being, a person whose responses we can’t always anticipate. That person’s own personality is the biggest unknown in an always changing equation.

As much as I’m saying all of this, though, I find I do best when I don’t see the forest for the trees. When I look at the big picture, it becomes too overwhelming. I see forks in roads and possible wrong turns and get very frightened at the choices I know my children will be faced with.

But when I focus on the day to day, I can deal. I can ask myself if I kissed them enough today, hugged them enough, listened to their jokes, showed them firmness of character and inspired them to hold on to their own individuality. I think if I focus on the day to day, putting one foot in front of the other, piling days on top of days that are filled with fun and learning and love, then hopefully that will build into one lifelong lesson of How to Be.

At least, I hope so.

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