"I cannot tell a lie..." Those famous words of legend, spoken by a boy who knew he'd done the wrong thing, knew he was likely in for it, and still would rather have been honest and dealt with the consequences than to dishonor himself by telling an untruth. George Washington, so they say, had a sense of moral fiber long before he became the first president of our country. The story often focuses on Washington's honesty with his father, confessing to having cut down the famous cherry tree, and it seems to me that we often focus on young Washington's filial loyalty, his respect for his father which was so great he knew not to insult his intelligence with anything other than the truth. But I sometimes wonder if perhaps the double meaning of the story was that the insult to himself, in lying to his father, was so reprehensible to Washington that he simply could not stomach it. There's something to be said about valuing our relationships with others, and then there's the reality that no matter what we do, or who we do or don't dupe, we have to live with ourselves.
It's this sort of thinking which led me to where I was on Monday afternoon. Kiddo and I were on the bus, headed downtown. We were to meet Joe and then take Kiddo in for his Well-Check and yes, he would be getting shots. I hadn't quite hidden the reason for our trip downtown, however, I also hadn't voluntarily explained it beyond "We're going downtown to meet Daddy", either. I don't offer upsetting news until it's really necessary, but when push comes to shove, if Kiddo asks about something, I will tell him the truth. It's just better this way.
Or is it?
Cruising down Northeast Couch Street, toward the river, Kiddo asked the more direct question I'd been waiting for. "What are we going to do after we meet Daddy?" I hedged and answered that we had to take care of a few things. He pressed for a more exact answer and I told him "Well, you have a doctor's appointment."
"Will I get shots?"
Bracing myself, and with a matter-of-fact voice--"Yes, honey, you'll need some shots."
What followed was a slow meltdown building up to a very upset, nearly hysterical kid who threatened to "hold everything on the bus so you can't take me off". I put him on my lap, and he did calm down when a group of day camp kids came on the bus, all of them together with the matching tee shirts. We got downtown, got off the bus, picked up a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese for him and settled down in front of the bagel shop. If I was going into a tough afternoon, I was going to make sure that at least he had a full stomach. We had a few more attempts to stay 'rooted to the spot', grabbing onto bars and the big bike racks, but nothing unmanageable. These were his half-hearted attempts to stay away from the doctors' office, which by this time he likely envisioned with a huge hypodermic needle sticking out of it's roof.
I began to doubt my so-called wisdom of being honest. Maybe it was just foolishness, this sticking-to-being-honest thing. Maybe I was a total dumbass and not respecting some unspoken rule all the other parents knew but me: lie lie lie. Whenever you can. Make it a surprise. Blame it on the doctor. "Oh, she says you have to get shots after all. Sorry!" I know some parents lie about shots. And after that afternoon at the doctor's office, I learned why.
First, Kiddo wouldn't get out of the car. Despite my usual "I am not carrying your capable five-year-old self" rule, I did indeed carry a fetal-position-clinging-to-the-car-with-a-death-grip child into the doctor's office, passing a woman on the street who looked at me in sympathy. It would not be the last of these looks I would get that day. In the waiting room, when his name was called, he got down on the floor and slid under a plastic rectangular bench to hide. What's most remarkable about this feat was that the space beneath the bench was probably 6 inches tall and so how in the world he flattened himself enough to fit in that space was truly a marvel. The CMA who had called Kiddo's name began laughing and called the other medical assistants to see. "No one has ever done this before!" While she was in awe, all energy and ready to help our little guy, we were in the 'cringing and bargaining stage'. Kiddo was screaming and crying about not wanting to get shots and I was promising myself I would definitely have a shot of something alcoholic when I got home.
And we weren't even in the exam room yet.
I'll spare you the rest of the gory details, but suffice it to say that by the time the doctor's visit was over and then medical assistants (yes, two of them) got Kiddo's shots done, one of us was a puddle of goo. Unfortunately, it was me. We had spent the close-to-ten minutes waiting for the doctor on Elevated Fear Level-Code Red, and while the doctor visit went well (she assured him she wasn't giving the shots), once she left, we had another bout of hysterical crying. And then, when the two MA's came in to give the shots, it took two of us to hold him--he, on my lap, with his arms crossed in a restraint hold and one MA to hold his leg while the other did the shots. We thanked the ladies profusely and I tried to pull myself together, and not to cry. We'd gone through 2 Rescue Remedy pastilles for him and one for me and still I was a quivering mass. This was the worst, worst visit ever. Worse than when he was two and cried and cried after the shots, looking at me, looking so betrayed. This was worse.
I wondered, later, about how 'worth it' telling the truth was. I had told the truth and had probably a half-hours worth of out-of-control fear and panic to deal with. We were all exhausted and grumpy.
I wouldn't know the benefit of this until the next day, when Kiddo and I were out for a walk. He was playing with a rather long hangnail and then had complained about it. "Let me look at it." I offered. He hid the hand behind his body and turned so that it was held away from me. "NO." he replied.
"Are you afraid I'll touch it or pull it off or something?" I asked. He nodded. "I won't touch it, I promise. I just want to look at it and make sure it isn't bleeding." He looked doubtful. "You know, Kiddo, I don't lie to you, and if I tell you I won't touch it, I won't. Will you please just show it to me?"
And with that, the look on his face changed. Maybe-- I like to think, anyway-- he realized that what I said could be relied upon. He brought his finger out for me to inspect. I bent my head down and lowered my glasses for a closer look.
"It looks like it hurts."
"Not too much. It's okay." he smiled at me, reached out his hand for mine, and we kept on our walk. Yes, perhaps it was the hard thing, to tell the truth. However, it's the hard moments which prove to Kiddo that I am trustworthy, that I will 'tell him true'. He knows that Mom won't just say what he wants to hear and then do something different. I hope this is some very good modeling for him, for those years ahead when he has to tell me something I don't want to hear, or when he might have to tell a child of his own something that they will never, ever want to hear~
"Yes, honey, you'll need some shots."