My daughter is a feisty, fervent 9-year-old. An astrologist friend calls her a true Scorpio. I mostly call her bluff.
A few months ago Claire cut off her bangs. Bangs she had been trying to grow out. They were in her way, so she dealt with them in her way. She snipped them right up to her scalp. They looked ridiculous but she didn’t mind at all.
Growing them out seemed to take forever, but gradually the strands were long enough to pull back with clips. Soon I knew they’d merge into her ponytail. Finally, an end to the shorn look!
But this morning while Claire read a library book and I started brushing her hair, there they were again. What were once her bangs stuck out on the sides of her beloved face, blunt stubs obvious as badly trimmed shrubs flanking a front door. I called attention to it, rather casually I thought.
She said belligerently, “I didn’t do it!”
Oh no. Once a child’s untruth crosses the lips it tends to be repeated like a mantra.
“Maybe just a little snip?”
“I didn’t do it.”
“You could say, ‘I was just trying to cut one hair and the scissors slipped.’”
“I didn’t do it!”
“Okay, you didn’t do it today. How about yesterday?”
“I didn’t do it!”
“You didn’t do it with scissors. Maybe you did it with nail clippers?”
“A knife? A hatchet?”
“I did not!”
Her tone was increasingly strident but her face couldn’t cover waves of conflicting feelings.
“You shut the door too quickly and your hair got sheared off?”
“Crocodiles chewed it up?”
“The lawnmower ran over it?”
“I. Did. Not. Do. It!”
I plucked the library book from her unsuspecting grip and said in a dramatic accent, “No books until we get to the real story.”
I knew it was the cruelest threat to a reader. But once a parental declaration is made, the line of hard-to-go-back is drawn. I reviewed my Tell The Truth Guidelines— “You know that if you tell the truth I won’t get mad and yell.”
“I didn’t do it and you are mean!”
I flapped her book pages enticingly, so close but still so unreadable. “Come on, yonder words beckon…”
I knew the hair had been cut since I had tucked her in bed last night. I was pretty sure Bad Haircut Fairy hadn’t visited. I gave it another try.
“When I was a kid, I’d tell a lie and I’d nearly believe it myself. I’d moan to my mother, ‘You don’t believe me.’ I could even make myself cry. My mother was fierce when she launched one of her inquisitions, yet here I am, annoyingly cheerful, just asking how your hair got cut.”
You’d think she would be a little less obvious but Claire squeezed out a few tears and insisted, “I don’t know how it happened but I didn’t do it!”
She pulled away from my ponytail-making and stomped off to the bathroom. She was gone a long time. Of course I thought she was hiding from my queries. “Are you planning to come out in time to leave?”
“I have diarrhea.”
Ever the persistent prosecutor, I said to the door, “Your body trying to get something out of its system?”
I provided a few plausible excuses, “Gee Mom, I just remembered that I did cut it,” or “Oh yeah, I cut it but I was too embarrassed to tell you.” Claire emerged from the bathroom. I tried one last phrase, delivered in crisp Shakespearean tones, “Peace comes to she who confesses, yes I cut my lovely tresses.”
She rolled her eyes. “You are not being fair. You can’t take away all my library books. I’ll hide them. You can’t make me say I cut my hair.”
“Think of it. Years and years of watching the rest of us reading happily while you suffer.” Just then I spied the book I’d removed from her hand now cleverly tucked in her backpack.
“Aha!” I plucked it from her bag. At least she wasn’t practiced enough at deceit to hide it more effectively. I had only minutes before she’d be out the door. “You’ll feel better when you confess, and I’ll try to keep myself from jumping up and down saying, ‘I was right, nah nah nah boo boo!’”
She zipped up her coat and smiled despite herself. With no drum roll, no explanation why it took her so long to tell the truth, she said simply: “I did it.”
I jumped up and down singing, “I was right! Nah nah nah boo boo!”
She kissed me goodbye on one of my down jumps, stuffed the book back in her bag, and went out the door. Her hood couldn’t staunch the glow from her bright face, illuminated by truth and flanked by bristles of stubby hair.
This is a throwback post, published long ago on Errant Parent.