Little Liars

Little Liars

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At back-to-school night recently, a mother whose child is new to our school rose from her seat with a puzzled look on her face.

“My son came home the other day and told me that you two”—she gestured toward two of the elementary school teachers—“are married and are expecting a baby, and that you’re both leaving the school next month. Can you let us know more about that?”

The teachers looked at each other and burst into laughter. When they could finally speak, they explained that neither is leaving the school, pregnant or a polygamist (the male teacher is married to another woman).

“About 95 percent of what your child tells you is happening in school may not be perfectly accurate,” one of the teachers gently pointed out, at which point all of the parents started laughing. All except me.

I was struck by a bone-chilling thought: If kids routinely garble the truth about what happens in school, who’s to say they aren’t doing the same thing when they tell their teachers about what happens at home?

Holy God, it would be bad enough if my kids just stuck to the facts! I’ve taken extraordinary steps to make myself appear capable, calm and organized whenever I interact with my children’s teachers. At parent-teacher conferences, if the subject of, for example, my sons’ organizational challenges comes up, I subtly suggest that this must be a personality trait from my husband’s side of the family. Then I put my feet under a desk to hide the fact that I am wearing mismatched socks.

Could my kids be secretly sabotaging me behind my back?

(Technically, it wouldn’t have to be behind my back. They could just walk behind the stacks of papers and books in my office and sabotage away, undetected, for months.)

To assuage my fears, I took an informal playground survey. I was relieved to learn that most of my friends’ children aren’t confusing the details about what happens in their home lives when they talk to their teachers. Instead, those cherub-faced tykes are blatantly making things up—and the little fibbers seem to have adopted the motto that the more flamboyant the story, the better.

“I was picking up my son one day, and a mom I didn’t even know came up to me and said, ‘I heard you’re trying to get pregnant, and I wanted to say good luck. I know how hard that can be,’” one mother groaned.

Her son, apparently not content with merely voicing his desire for a younger sibling, had begun to intimately detail his parents’ efforts to conceive to anyone who would listen (out of self-defense, the parents eventually did give birth to another child).

Imaginary siblings abound among the elementary school set. Take Moshi, the hellion younger brother of a second-grader who bites his grandmother and hurls his dinner across the room.

“Last semester, one of the teachers made a special point of asking me how Moshi was doing,” said a mom, speculating that perhaps the teacher was terrified that Moshi might eventually end up in her class. The catch is, the little granny-biter doesn’t actually exist. “My daughter spent the first semester of school announcing that our family is Chinese, and that we speak Chinese at home,” sighed another parent, who happens to be of Korean descent.

(The same thing happened to my brother. His daughter claimed to be half Japanese. Oh, and she announced that her parents had officially changed her name from Sophia to “Sparkle Kelly,” a slightly more transparent fib.) So, what have my kids been telling the teachers about our home life?

I cringed while I waited for the answer. I knew it wouldn’t be good.

“Oh, I can’t think of a thing,” the teachers said, smiling brightly. They’re pretty good fibbers. Must’ve learned it from the kids.

The website for Sarah Pekkanen’s upcoming novel Way Beyond Compare, scheduled for release in the spring of 2010, is www.sarahpekkanen.com.

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