Pants On Fire

Over the last month or so, Avery, the 5 year-old well-spring of eternal cuteness, has developed a problem with lying. I realize kids, at one time or another will likely tell a fib at some point growing up, but I've been a little surprised at this sudden onset and increasingly consistent pattern.

Allow me share a few recent examples to provide some context.

***These scenes are dramatic re-enactments based on actual events.***

Example #1 - School
The kindergarten teacher's back is turned towards the class as uses the dry erase board to outline an equation related to quantum physics - it's a very advanced school.

Teacher: As you can clearly see class x is to y, as y is to...

Unidentified child's voice: Oh come on, we're never going to use this crap! (well, not those words exactly)

Teacher turning and looking around: Who's talking?

Avery raises hand and then points: It was John Doe, Teacher.

Teacher stares at Avery making voice recognition match: Avery? Was it you that was talking?

Avery blinks and goes into warp cuteness level 50.

Teacher: Avery are you lying to me?

Avery deftly moves from cuteness to deflection mode. Drops to the floor. Sobs uncontrollably: Whaaaaa! I miss my sister! I miss my Ga-ga! I miss my Care Bears! I miss the days when gas was under $2.00! Dear God why?! Why must life be such a cruel b*tch!

Okay, I may not have the actual dialogue correct. It was second-hand from an informant, but you get the gist of it.

Verdict? Guilty. Punishment? Sit out during part of recess.

Example #2 - In Bedroom Playing With Sister
Sister Allie: Whaaaaaaa!

Lois Lane and I enter room to investigate. Me: What in name of Zeus's Butthole happened?

Allie: Sniffle. Avery hit me and then ripped Mr. Fuzzy Britches out of my hands while I was playing with it...sniffle, sniffle.

Me: Avery did is that true? Did you hit your sister and take... Mr. Fuzzy Britches from your sister?

Avery, apparently struck dumb and deaf only moments earlier continues to play on the floor with her back turned toward Lois and me and ignores the question.

Allie: She hit me right me right here on my arm, sniffle. With this! Allie holds up a thin rubber pad consistent in size and shape to the red mark on her arm. Given that Mr. Fuzzy Britches is Allie's favorite toy, and that she's not into self-mutilation, the picture is pretty clear.

Me in deep scary tone: Avery? Did you do this?

Lois: Avery -middle name - last name! Answer the question! Now! (Middle & last name combos are like raising the threat category at airports from orange to red)

Avery, back still turned: No.

Lois: What did we tell you would happen if you lied again?

Avery looks up: Ladies and gentleman, the evidence here is purely circumstantial. So I tell you, if I didn't hit, you must acquit.

Lois: My left white cheek you didn't! All of America knows what really happened, and you're going to face the consequences.

Avery: Bwhaaaaaaa! Not the chair! I'm innocent! You got it all wrong! It wasn't me! It was the one-armed kid! One arm I tell you!

Verdict? Guilty. Punishment? For the crime of hitting her sibling, Care Bear taken away for one week. For lying, no TV for one week. We understand, Allie will be pressing civil charges for punitive damages and time lost at the 1st grade.

Example #3 - Kitchen & Work Desk (following the completion of her week long sentence)
Me making Saturday morning pancakes in the kitchen when I here a suspicious sound from the work desk. Peer around corner to see Avery touching computer, presumably to buy a white Ford Bronco from eBay: Avery, are you messing with the computer?

Avery unaware I have witnessed her touching the computer, walks into the kitchen and says nothing. Assumes I am off my medication.

Me: Avery? We're you on the computer? You know you're not supposed to be on there without an adult?

Avery looking up and using pointing finger to emphasize each word of her response: I did. Not. Have. Relations. With that computer!

Me: I watched you touching it. Why are you lying to me? You just got done being punished for this and now you're going to lose TV again for the same thing.

Avery: Bwhaaaa! What's with you people? Oh, I see. It's because I'm 5? Is that it? I'm 5 and all 5 year olds lie through their cute little cheeks! I'll show you! You don't know nutthin'! Do you hear me? Nutthin!

You can figure out the rest.

For some reason, there is nothing that burns me up more than when a kid lies to me. However, this is ironic, given the fact I had a problem with chronic lying as a kid myself. My greatest desire growing up was to become...a con man. I'm not joking. Most boys want to be fireman, or policemen, while I wanted to be a grifter who swindling rich jerks out of thousands, and outsmarted the law. This was an obsession that started after watching the A-Team for the first time, where one of the good guys nicked named, "Face Man" for his good looks and ability to con his way into just about anything seemed like the coolest thing ever. This is why I love movies like The Sting and Ocean's 11, 12, 13.

Did I get caught lying? Yes, but the punishments did little to break me, and there were many more times I didn't get caught. This went on for a while, especially in situations where I got in trouble for doing something else wrong. I'd invent some "brilliant" tale on what really happened. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.

Don't get me wrong, in the back of my mind I knew right from wrong and lying, especially as blatantly as I was, definitely was wrong. It bugged me, but I fought it. Eventually, I came to the point where my lying had to stop. I can't pinpoint exactly when this happened, but I remember coming to a stark realization that, as an officer in the Army, my dishonesty could result in life or death consequences. There was no honor in being a liar. And as part of that thought, not telling the truth in my marriage would mean hurting someone I claimed to love more than anything (This becomes really tough when asked if an outfit makes them look... well, not their true beautiful self). And what if my children caught me in a lie? This is not to even mention the need for honesty as a writer. Ask Oprah about James Frey.

Bringing this full circle, I'm concerned that I'm seeing the beginnings of the same sort of pattern in Avery as I once did. Lying when in trouble, and then deflecting. Honestly(can I use such a qualifier in a post on lying?), it bothers me, and I am actually kind of stumped as to how to handle it.

So I open this up to the floor.
Am I over-reacting, just because of my background?
Is this just a phase all children go through?
How often do you see kids lie - your own or your students?
How do you handle it?
Give it to me straight.

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