No Santa Claus or Easter Bunny in our house, but definitely a Tooth Fairy...until the 6-year-old figured it out. When you've got clever kids for whom innocence was not meant to last, these "lies" live a short shelf life. We don't really think of them as lies, but they are. Sweet, joyful, tender lies, but lies none the less. When kids eventually find out the truth, they are hopefully wise enough to realize the stories were told not only to them but to all children, and so the lie doesn't sting so badly.
But what of the lies we tell our children to protect them? The ones that we pray will never be revealed.
When I was 12 years old, my rabbit died. We lived next to an agricultural testing ground that was cordoned off by a fence that bordered our neighborhood. It was pretty on the other side of the fence. When I asked my father what he'd done with Marshmallow (yes, she was white and fluffy), he said he'd buried her over the fence where she'd be safe and protected.
I believed him.
When I was in my twenties, it hit me one day that the fence was unclimbable with its barbed wire. And my "I can't lift heavy boxes because of my back" father would never climb a fence, especially not with a box filled with dead rabbit under his arm. So I challenged him.
Me: Did you really bury Marshmallow in the agricultural testing grounds?
Dad: No, I threw her over the fence.
Dad: Don't worry. I threw her far enough in so nobody would smell her decomposing.
That was Dad for ya.
To say I was angry would be doing the English language injustice. To say I was hurt would be closer to accurate. He had lied to me, and my mother had supported it, the willing accomplice. Then it hit me; in reality, what other option did my father have? In South Florida, you can't really bury anything deep enough in this limestone rock. Gardening works, but not burying dead animals far enough down to keep scavenging dogs from digging them right back up. So my Dad throwing Marshmallow over the fence was probably the wisest option. And lying to me about it was probably done out of love (or laziness, I'm still not sure).
But I am sure that being a parent faced with teaching lessons of death and mourning to a child is one of the most difficult tasks. Pets serve that purpose very well. If we're lucky, they are our teachers before we lose family members or friends. And when a parent is faced with treating their child compassionately while also protecting them from further pain, the lie becomes more justifiable.
Last night, my husband and I were talking about the compounding lies we've told our kids regarding what happened to their deceased pets, and we prayed they would never find out. We told those lies out of love and, quite honestly, out of respect for our children's desires to handle the deceased in what we saw as an unreasonable manner. But some day the kids will figure it out, because they're curious. And that's when they'll process the mixed message they received in their youth - the one that said, "Never tell a lie."
In a recent post, I referenced one of Missed Periods' posts, and I'm about to do it again, indirectly. Never say never. Absolutes don't serve an honest purpose in the real world. When children are little, we tell them never to lie. But as they grow and mature, they learn that all humans tell "white" lies because lying is essential to socializing well in this world and protecting people's feelings. (Actually, I don't care how you are today, but I'll pretend I do to be polite. That, my friends, is lying.) Lying is also necessary to tell a good joke, by the way.
And when our children figure out the truth about life, they will understand that sometimes lies have their place in our world. Hopefully, they will forgive their parents, who, at the grandparents' advice, consecrated the hamster's grave (2 of them, actually) and "relocated" the corpses with the intention of preventing resurfacing of the dead due to heavy rains or pesky opossums. All this after the mourners had marked the graves with stones emblazoned with Sharpie markers. (They even returned the next day to plant flowers on the site.)
Sweet eternal dreams, dear Remy (hamster #1) and Joey (hamster #2). May you rest in peace (wherever you are), and may you know that you were deeply loved.