City Sprawl: False Alarm

I remind myself a lot not to tell lies, with the end result being I lie all the time. 

Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

Fact: The female louse can lay up to 10 eggs, or nits, on the human scalp per day.
Fact: Northern Virginia handles 70 percent of the nation’s internet traffic.
Fact: 5 percent of that 70 percent is generated by mothers frantically Googling lice info after their kids’ schools sent home notifications in everyone’s homework folders.

Two of the above facts are true. One is an outright lie: The lice-moms brandish a far larger internet presence. We are mighty, totally creeped out and vast.

It’s a fun game, isn’t it? Two Truths and a Lie. They had us play it as an icebreaker the first weekend in college, where the only problem was I got so nervous I lied about which of my facts was a lie. This was with people I was going to be living with for at least the next year, who would figure my lie out eventually, if not on the spot. I’m a terrible liar, so I remind myself a lot not to tell lies, with the end result being I lie all the time.

It is human nature to lie. I’m learning this now, as my son blooms into an active-minded little pre-Ker with semi-private components of his being I don’t have direct access to: his dreams, internal thoughts and ambitions, the three hours he spends every morning at school. “Did you go to the bathroom?” I ask him before bed. He hasn’t figured out yet to directly lie and say “yes,” but also, he knows he does not want to say “no.” So most nights we end up somewhere in the middle, with him writhing around on the floor, bemoaning the injustices of modern plumbing and expectations therein.

When I lie, I blush and can’t maintain eye contact. My husband says he likes this about me and I’ll just bet he does. Psychologists tell us 69 percent of people regularly lie to their spouses. I can’t think of a specific occasion when I have, but if it has happened, I promise you it was via text message or something I made one of the kids tell him.

And we lie so much to the kids. Back when we just were dating, we would talk about how we wanted to raise our kids, about how we felt about lying to them. We were fools. How did we feel about letting our kids believe there’s a Santa Claus? Please. Your feelings are irrelevant. Santa reigns larger than life in our household, and not just at Christmastime. As a year-round fixture, the man wields more power than God. No one has lost a tooth yet and they know all about the Tooth Fairy: her physique, place of residence, family ancestry. The Pacifier Fairy, who flutters down to place toys beneath pillows your first seven nights with no pacifier: That’s one we came up with, all on our own. An extra set of fabrications just to keep things fresh.

Is there a way not to lie to your kids? For my own mother, there absolutely was not. I needed the lies too much. I begged to be lied to. The thing I most loved: again, Santa Claus. The thing I most feared: getting shots at the doctor’s office. And what good would telling me about them beforehand have done me? It never worked. Not really. I could smell the lie coming off of her like alcohol off a cotton swab. But subconsciously, I think I was always glad that she tried, for the chance to cling to the deceit like a security blanket.

I’m so quick to lie in the face of someone I know will catch me. There was a time at a doctor’s office when the nurse just asked me what my weight was instead of having me stand on the scale. I shaved off 15 pounds on the spot. Never mind that I’d been to the same office three days earlier when they had measured it. Never mind that, at the time the nurse asked me, she was holding my chart and looking at it.

A friend asked me recently whether there was an enrollment waitlist at my son’s preschool, because she’s thinking about registering her own son. There isn’t a waitlist. I knew there wasn’t a waitlist. But I told her I would check for her, then sent a text message later saying I thought there was one. Pretty terrible, right? But her son has a history of pushing my son around. Physically. Every time he sees him. Not little pushes.

So now what? Chances are she’ll call the school, anyway. She’ll find out there’s no waitlist. She’ll know that I’ve lied to her. She won’t understand why. She’ll take it personally and think I don’t want to be friends. But I do want to be friends, I’ll lie. Or, I could tell her the truth: What I want is to be friends when your son’s old enough for sleep-away camp, and he is away at that camp.

Lying is cowardice. It is kindness. Do you ever think about your wedding vows? I do—in retrospect. But I didn’t give them a second thought before taking them. I didn’t even know what I was going to be asked to say. We didn’t have a rehearsal, so I just robotically parroted what the officiant was reciting at the time. None of it seemed like a lie, but I also was not picking through any of it with a fine-tooth comb for inaccuracies. It felt so much better to just bask in the glow of what a good and noble person he was making me out to be.

Last month, I found my first gray hairs. In the past, I would never have dyed it because dyed hair looks terrible half grown out and I’m the kind of person who would let it half grow out. But now I wonder, should I start lying about my hair color? My age? Maybe not directly, but there are things happening in my eye region that weren’t happening before. Is it a sin to cost-compare boosting gel creams on Amazon?

A small lie—but small lies, in one sense, are the worst of their kind. They’re so easy; and our lives are swarming with them; and they multiply. I’ve noticed, for instance, that my husband and I increasingly share the same stories, about our children, our vacations, our mutual friends. The stories grow embellished, by him or by me. We overhear the other one telling them and the new version becomes the one we tell from there on out, even though it’s riddled with tiny fibs.

Fact: We went to Paris once for three days and it poured rain the whole time. We couldn’t bring ourselves to do anything but sing karaoke in the same karaoke bar the entire weekend, two blocks down from the Moulin Rouge.
Fact: I’ve never had lice, but I did work as a camp counselor one summer and two of my teen campers had nits, which we treated. No meds for the ensuing, simultaneous 16 cases of hysteria.
Fact: I am the Pacifier Fairy.

Actually, all those are true. So on lice day, I don’t have to use Google, because that imagery is forever seared into my brain.

I recommend sparing yourself. Don’t Google anything, just trust that you’ll know it when you see it.

Go with your gut. Your gut never lies.

(June 2018)

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