Lies, damned lies, and a small child

In which Papa Zesser looks back at the first time he caught his darling daughter in a lie

Ottawa, June 7, 2024 – June 12, 2024 — Well, my darling daughter Baobao is really growing up; the afternoon of June 7, 2024, found me, for the very first time, punishing her.

She has made a friend in our complex, Z____, now a seven year old girl who tried to make friends last year but came on too strong. After three or four encounters on the roof of our housing complex’s parking garage, Baobao decided she no longer wanted to play up there at all, so traumatized was she by the girl’s aggressively friendly overtures.

What a difference nine or 10 months makes!

This year they have become close friends, and are in and out of each other’s houses when they aren’t playing on the roof. (What a seven year old gets out of a friendship with someone still three months shy of five is a little mysterious to me, but who am I to question an age-gap relationship? I have 18 years on my wife.)

Anyway, a few days ago, I stepped out onto our back porch to check on things on the roof below, and was about 95 percent sure I saw her eating a popsicle while hanging out with a bunch of the local kids. But when I asked her about it later she looked me right in the eye and denied it.

Since I wasn’t absolutely certain, I didn’t push it; the last thing I want to do is accuse anybody of lying if I’m not sure about it.

Photo shows Baobao riding her bicycle on a large roof.
Screenshot of Baobao practicing her bike-riding. June 2, 2024.

(An aside: we are not absolutists about “treats” but we mostly limit candies or chocolates or cookies etcetera to very small amounts after a good supper. I want her to grow up with healthy eating habits, but I don’t want her to grow up feeling that sugar is a forbidden fruit.)

Anyway, on Friday, she went out to ride her bike on the roof (this week she started riding it to school as I walk with her, about 2.4 kilometres each way, but her rapidly approaching mastery of the machine is still new enough that she’s happy to ride in circles as well), but soon enough I heard the door open downstairs, and in she came, accompanied by Z____.

After a short while, Z____ offered me a piece of chocolate. I declined, then asked my darling daughter whether she had had any.

“No,” she said, but at almost the same moment, Z____ said, “Yes.”

“Baobao,” I said, “did you have any chocolate?” And she fessed up.

“I’m really not happy that you didn’t tell me the truth,” I said slowly and calmly. “And I’m not sure just what I should do about it.”

I thought for a few seconds, then added, “You know I’ve told you that it’s really very important that I can trust you, that I can believe what you tell me.” She didn’t offer anything in return, but rather, said to Z____, “Let’s go upstairs.”

I was still indecisive, and the two of them ran through the kitchen and up the stairs, Z____ in the lead. (My wife was working up there — when she’s working from home she works in our daughter’s room, though not for much longer if I have anything to say about it — and I heard her say, “Hi Baobao — oh, you’re Z____, I thought you were my daughter!”)

By the time the kids were coming back downstairs I had made up my mind.

“I’m sorry, Z____,” I said as she came back into the living room (of which my own “office” occupies a corner) carrying two or three of Baobao’s stuffed toys, “but I’m afraid Baobao won’t be able to play with you any more today.”

By that point, Baobao was in the room too, looking shocked. Meanwhile, Z___ looked at me with slow-dawning understanding even as my daughter started to cry. “I’m afraid you’ll have to go for now; maybe you and Baobao can play again tomorrow.”

Though Baobao was now crying in earnest, I decided it would be best to get her bike inside, as we had been having a lot of rain, and it would give me the chance to be sure that her friend made it out safely.

I assured Baobao I would be right back and Z____ and I walked out to the roof. “Can Baobao come out later?” she asked, and I said no, explaining that she was grounded for the night. “She lied to me too,” Z____ said, “she told me that you said it would be okay if she had a chocolate.”

“She’s a lot younger than you are,” I said, “and she needs to learn.”

Back at home, Baobao was close to inconsolable. “I really, really, really want to ride my bike!” she wailed again and again, and I told her, again and again, how important it is that I can trust her to tell me the truth.

After a while, she told me through her tears that she wanted a hug. I swivelled my chair and opened my arms. She climbed onto my lap and I held her tight for the next half hour or so, while she cried and occasionally pleaded to go out again.

Image shows copies of Peanuts Treasury, by Charles M. Schulz, and Flight 714, by Herge.
Peanuts Treasury, by Charles M. Schulz, which was mine for more than 50 years, and Flight 714, which I have had for almost as long. Both, of course, now below to Baobao.

In time, of course, she calmed down and by bed time, the trauma of being denied her pleasure had passed. I helped her shower, combed her hair, and read to her from the penultimate Tintin book, my well-loved copy of Flight 714, which I think I bought when I was about 10, and an equally well-loved volume that was given to me when I was seven or eight years old, Peanuts Treasury.

Will she lie to me again? No doubt she will. Have I at least made her think about the importance of telling the truth? I dunno, but I hope so.

I’ll close with a question for those among you who have dealt with similar situations: how did you deal with the first time your child lied to you (or rather, the first time you caught them at it)? And for that matter, do you have any advice about what I should do going forward?

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