When I was a kid, my brother and I had a turtle.
His name was Trelawney. (Well, I don’t really know if it was a male. It may have been a female. I never thought to check under its shell.) We named him after a wooden turtle that my grandfather had made and named Trelawney. We used it as a stool to brush our teeth and such (the stool, not our pet turtle). I asked my Dad where the name Trelawney came from. He didn’t recall. My grandfather was funny like that.
I don’t remember much about the life of our turtle. But I remember his death.
And the resulting cover up.
Apparently, Trelawney died of natural causes. But that’s not the story we got. It seems my parents didn’t think we would understand a turtle just up and dying on its own. Maybe they thought we’d feel guilty. That somehow his death was our fault. That he died because we didn’t take care of him properly. So they told us that they put his habitat outside on the deck for some fresh air and some squirrels got a hold of him. I guess the horrifying picture of this little turtle being pulled apart by rabid rodents was supposed to be more comforting. But that tiny reptile was floating on the clouds in turtle heaven before they ever placed him outside. He died of natural causes, maybe even peacefully in his sleep. No squirrels at all.
This whole sordid affair was revealed to us years after the fact.
Some time after Trelawney went shell down, our dog Ivy, so named because she loved to play in that wretched green stuff that selfishly takes over the whole yard, disappeared. It was three weeks before we were to move. Ivy was a beautiful Border Collie. Remarkably intelligent. But she was a bit aloof. It never really felt like she was a true part of the family, like most dogs become. She stayed outside in the backyard most of the time, playing in her precious ivy. Then one day, she wasn’t anywhere to be found. We searched everywhere (starting with the ivy), but she was gone. Because of the Trelawney, umm, incident, there’s been a seed of doubt for years that Ivy went the “way of the squirrels.” Like…
- Maybe she was attacked by a snake. Snakes love to hang out in ivy, too, and there were Copperheads around my house growing up. Perhaps she got bit by a snake and died a painful death. This would explain the need for the less painful escape story.
- We were just about to move. Maybe the gate to the fence was “accidentally” left open at night.
Let’s examine the evidence…
- My Mom and Dad are great parents and even better people. Fudging the truth about a slimy reptile is one thing. Faking a dog’s disappearance is quite another.
- There were several teenage boys in our neighborhood who were known to be mean-spirited pranksters. My parents had some run-ins with some of them. It’s possible that they let the dog out of the fence, or even put her in a truck and drove her away somewhere.
- Ivy never seemed to like us very much. We did everything we could to make her feel at home. We built her a dog house. We went out to play with her. We gave her treats. She’s just wasn’t that into us. We had a family dog the whole time I was growing up, and she was the only one who never clicked. I wouldn’t be surprised if she set out one day in search of a family she might actually want to be a part of. Kind of a reverse Homeward Bound.
- My parents went to great lengths to try and find the dog. We put out signs. We drove the streets for what seemed like hours, for days on end. We talked to neighbors and friends. Not the actions of people who know there’s no dog to be found. And not the actions of people who don’t want the dog to be found.
I bring all of this up to say…
Sometimes parents mislead their kids.
What I’m learning is that it’s almost impossible to parent without telling at least a few so-called “white” lies. And for those holier-than-thou’s who say you would never lie to your kids, I’ve got two words for you: Santa Claus.
But some parents take this to an extreme. I believe this is the main reason for the success of the audition episodes of American Idol. People tune in to hear the terrible singers. It’s funny. Some (or most) of those awful singers truly believe that they have musical talent. The reason is because their whole lives they’ve had a parent (or another loved one) tell them they’re a good singer. But they’re not. The amount of time fibbing loved ones spend listening to these people sing and the money spent on useless lessons is staggering.
I’ve told my kids things that weren’t completely true. But it’s always been in situations where bending the truth a bit is in their best long-term interest. Does that make it okay? I don’t know. The Bible is pretty clear about lying. It’s one of the ten basic things you should never do. Clearly, lying for selfish purposes is wrong 100% of the time. But what about the “little” lies we tell our kids to protect them or motivate them to make good decisions?
Or what about when your wife asks you if the dress looks good, but it doesn’t? Or your friend asks if you like her new pair of heels, and they’re hideous? Or your girlfriend asks if she’s a good kisser, but she’s not? Or your neighbor asks you if you mind watching her bratty kids, and you absolutely do mind? Or your buddy asks if it would be too much trouble to help him move, and the last time you helped him move you ended up doing all the work? Or your sister asks you what you think of her painting, and it looks like a 5-year-old colored it? Or your husband asks you how you like the steak he grilled, and it tastes like a dog’s chew toy?
Are we likely to be completely truthful in those situations? Or are we apt to mislead? And what’s in the best interest of the other person, in the long term? And what does God have to say about all of this? In our relationships, I bet we’re misleading in our words more often than we would like to admit. And I have a feeling this isn’t good.
I need to work on this. And I’m going to. How about you?
And just to be safe, I’ll never buy my kids a turtle.