Suburban Snapshots

Lies I Tell My Daughter

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Last night as I pulled the meat from a whole roasted chicken and prepared it for the stock pot, Anna walked into the kitchen and scooted her stool up next to me.

From my elbow she asked, "Mama, what's that chicken's name?"

I looked at the chicken for probably a beat too long and said as matter-of-factly as I could — being careful not to betray that as usual, this almost-four-year-old had accidentally hit on one of the parental dilemmas I hadn't quite sorted out yet — "The chickens we eat don't really have names, Baby."

I didn't like my answer or the rest of the sad chicken story that I didn't tell her. I didn't tell her that our dinner used to look just like the chick we'd watched starting to hatch on a friend's YouTube video.

Kids have this beautiful, accidental wisdom. In between their unrelenting and arbitrary "Why?"s, there are the questions asked in the purest, most innocent way that force parents to really have to think, to come up with an answer we hadn't even thought to prepare.

Over the summer my five-year-old niece was visiting. With no context, in the midst of baking cookies or eating mac and cheese she asked, "Aunt Bren, when you're in love with somebody that means you broke their heart, right?" I cleared the lump in my throat with a hard swallow and said that yes, sometimes it does mean exactly that.

After our dog died, we didn't bother to correct Anna's assumption that Stella was actually recovering at the vet's office. She'd occasionally ask when Stella would be home and finally, without using The D Word, I told her that Stella could never come home. Despite further elaborations on dog heaven, she'll still ask, and I still won't really tell her.

Eventually she'll learn about the origins of dinner meat, she'll have a broken heart and she'll break one, she'll understand that there's no chance of her sweet, scruffy dog finding her way back to our door. As she grows I'll try to find the answers she needs. I'll fail more than a few times.

For now though I'll lie to her, and let her live in her own sweet world of gentler truths.

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