Don’t let that angelic little face fool you. She’s up to something.
To her credit, she’s not been an extremely mischievous child at all. She has her moments…she can be sly and crafty, she’s expert at framing her requests in the most convincing manner, she can extract the smallest minutia of humor out of a joke that is supposed to be over her head, and then throw that grown-up humor right back at you without blinking an eye. But she’s not a destructive mischievous. She never drew on the wall, or cut her own hair, or tried to escape the crib or the gate at her door. She’s generally accepting of most social mores and rarely tries to buck the system. But don’t let that fool you.
One of E’s favorite things in her room is the set of colorful photo albums perched high above the built in dresser on one wall. They start at birth, and we’ve filled four or five of the row we have up there with simple 4×6 shots, no captions, no frills. We’re pretty camera happy, so they tell a pretty complete story of her life thus far, and she’s captivated by it. She’s memorized the order, she’s heard all the corresponding tales (you did not like those prunes! you close your eyes going down the slide like Mom does on roller coasters! you used to be able to walk right under the dining room table without even ducking!), she knows where all the funny parts are. They read like fiction to her, and she can’t get enough. They spawn great talks about deep things – why did I look so messy when I was born? She might enjoy the conversations even more than she does the photos.
Earlier this week she chose one of the books as a nighttime reading choice. We looked through the album together, I repeated the same stories again, she corrected me when the slightest detail changed or was omitted. She wanted to keep the album in the bed with her that night but I wouldn’t let her because I was afraid the pages might get torn and tattered, and they just weren’t cut out to be a bed book. Later that night I was on the first floor and I heard that little voice on the third.
“Mom, don’t worry about that noise. It wasn’t anything but me knocking something as I was getting more library books.“
Uh huh. Library books is a code word. Something was up.
Now, I hadn’t heard any noise, so it must have not been a significant bump, but still I was curious. As I made my way up the stairs to investigate, she kept talking. Faster. More emphatically. I don’t interpret lie detector tests, but I did watch enough of Alias to know some truth stretching when I hear it.
“Mom, you don’t have to come up here or anything, I just didn’t want you to think that something was wrong or that I was hurt when you heard that crash, because I’m not, I’m just reading more library books and they are loud when you accidentally drop them as you are getting more. No need to check.”
Uh huh. Library books again. I’m on the second floor now. I scooped up the pile of clothes that M’s mom had ironed earlier (ahh, my mother-in-law, the saint) and kept climbing. By now she could see my head.
“Mom, you don’t have to come up. I mean it. I don’t need any more hugs and kisses. I’m just going to get back to reading my library books in bed. No problems. Good night.”
“That’s all right, dear, I’m just going to bring up these clothes that Grandma ironed for you. No worries.”
Panic registered in her face.
“Oh, good. Just put them in the bathroom there, right on the sink and I’ll wear them tomorrow.”
Yeah right. I’m not buying that a four-year-old appreciates the effort that ironing takes, and then expresses gratitude for it. I brace myself for the worst.
“I think I’ll go on and put them in your room, since I’m here and everything.”
Her hands shot out across the gate to cover the latch. But she’s smart, and she knew defeat was at hand. Her tone changed to spin mode. How could she make the situation look better, how could she manipulate the truth and gloss over the worst parts? The future politician squared up her shoulders, took a deep breath and started in.
A quick glance of the room showed the rocking chair moved away from the front of the dresser, a small chair from her table was placed squarely in front of it. One of the albums was missing from it’s spot. A square lump rose from the middle of the sheets on her bed. She pulled them back, just enough to reveal a corner.
“I was just fixing that page, the one that was coming apart – I just wanted to fix it for you so you wouldn’t have to later, but then the picture was sliding out and I couldn’t get it to stick together.” That’s when I noticed the scotch tape on the floor – the object that must have made enough of a rattle when it hit the hardwood floors to rattle this little sneak.
Together we looked at the damage (so slight), I told her how easily I could fix it, how I wouldn’t have been mad if she had just told me, how I only dislike it when she hides the truth. I made this point several times, in such a kind tone, and only felt a slight twinge of guilt, because in fact, there are many things that she could do that I would erupt at even if she began by first telling me the truth. I’ve got to work on that. She’ll be a teenager before we know it, and the photo album status will be the least of our worries. She snuggled in tightly, relief coursed through her, and I asked her if it felt so much better now that we were in this together. I think I might have even mentioned how hard it is to fabricate a pretend truth. She snuggled tighter. I just knew she got it.
I stood to go, gave one last hug and kiss, and told her goodnight and no more photo albums after bedtime. She nodded her head and I headed down the stairs. When I got halfway down she called out to me again.
“Hey, uh, Mom, when Dad gets home (he was making a quick run to the grocery) could you just tell him that you came up to bring me the ironed clothes and that’s all the excitement that happened up here tonight? Just that.”
That lesson seemed to have sunk right in, now didn’t it?
Epilogue, Sunday night:
When we said good night after books tonight we reminded her not to get the photo albums out. She nodded in agreement, she understood the rules, no problem.
A few hours later, M discovered this:
Parents: think we’ve made our point.
Kid: has the last laugh.