A somewhat singular and disturbing event happened yesterday which somehow opened our eyes to the real complexities of bringing up two girls.
Anjali brought from school a bunch of small toys. When patti asked her where she got them from, she said that her teacher had given them to her for good behavior. Patti, who is generally a bit paranoid, called me at work. She was worried because Anjali didnt clarify satisfactorily what good behavior meant.
I called the school and spoke with the secretary, who promised that she would check with Ms Khim and call me back. She accordingly called me back a couple of hours later saying that Ms Khim had not given any toys in school and probably Anjali had taken them. She explicitly requested me not to punish her as it was not a very grave thing.
Here is the paradox. Many writers of fiction have old characters who comment that young cannot understand old, but it is a big error if old does not understand young. I have, as many are aware, told several lies in my childhood and adoloescence, mostly for fear of scolding because of low marks obtained in class. But when my child lies, I get ununderstandably very self righteous and upset. I had a long talk with Swati, which calmed me somewhat and then talked to Anjali.
"I understand you got some toys from school"
"Where did you get them from?"
"Miss Khim gave them to me"
"Why did Ms Khim give them to you?"
"Because I was good. "
"Anjali,", I looked very serious. 'I spopke with Ms Khim on the phone. Ms Khim said that she didnt give any toys to you."
"Where did you get the toys from?"
"Ok. Try to remember. Did you take them from one of your friends?"
"Did you take them from the school?"
"Where did you get them from?"
"Mikeala gave them to me"
"Why did Mikeala give them to you?"
"Just like that, for a surprise"
"Ok. then, tomorrow I will come with you to school and we will both thank Mikeala for giving you the present"
"I think Mikaela wont come to school tomorrow"
"Because Mikaela went on holiday, Yesterday is her last day"
"Where did she go?"
"She went to America"
'I see... And she gave you the toys?"
"Did you ask her for them?"
"Yes. I asked her for them and she told that I can take them and I can return them tomorrow"
"Very well. We will go together and return them to Mikaela"
"No no. She said I dont need to return them tomorrow."
By now, husband had returned from work and both of us agreed that all did not add up in the story.
'Anjali, Daddy and I are coming with you to school tomorrow. We want to believe you that Mikaela gave you the toys and that you are telling the truth because we love you. But if we find out that you are lying, we will be very sad and we will have to cancel your birthday party at school as a punishment for lying. Come on, lets get ready for ballet"
She came with me and threw herself in my arms.
"Mummy, I was lying. I snatched the toys from the school"
"Whose were they?"
"They were in the classroom"
"Why did you say that Ms Khim gave them to you?"
"Because I was afraid that you or pattii will scold me"
I wrote out a long note to Ms Khim - the longest note that i ever wrote to a teacher - and sent it along with the toys back to the school. Husband went along to have a chat with the teacher.
It was rather hard for me to write out this post. I dont really want to treat this blog as a brag book. It is supposed to mark not just milestones and beautiful things about the children, but also their lessons and trials. The reason for writing this is not to put to judgement whether we handled the situation well or not - I believe in such scenarios, there is no right or wrong way to act. I also believe that telling lies to protect one's own interest is a part of mental development and somehow part of the learning process.
But then there is the question that arises, how can you distinguish a white lie from a real one. When Anjali makes a drawing using stencils and tells that she did them by hand, or when Sophia dresses up the dora doll and Anjali in play wants to convince me that she did it and vice versa - these are white lies... or are lies different shades of gray whose tolerance lines we draw based on situations and scenarios?
I am reminded of David Eagleman's incognito, where he describes the rational/ moral and inpulsive brains and explains why children are more impulsive. More reading here