Candy and lies: They're overrated
I thought I had discovered the secret of good parenting. It was a two-part secret consisting of 1) candy and 2) lies. I used candy to get Lucy to do things she didn’t want to do, and lies to get her to stop doing things I didn’t want her to do.
For example, Lucy went through a phase when she wouldn’t get in her car seat without a giant wrestling match. Wrestling with your baby doesn’t feel particularly good, especially if you’re like me and weak as a kitten. About half the time, Lucy won, which meant we weren’t going anywhere.
Once I hit upon the candy solution, getting Lucy into the car seat was easy. We happened to have a pack of Mentos in the car that Lucy had stolen from my parents, who buy them in bulk at Costco. So, for the next fifteen or so car rides, getting her strapped to her seat was as easy as saying, “Lucy, you get a Mento once you’re buckled in.”
With that, my little freshmaker and I were on our merry way. My dignity was intact, Lucy had deliciously minty breath, and since she’s still using her starter teeth, I figured we had no long-term consequences to concern ourselves with. Then we ran out of Mentos. In order for me to continue with my technique, it would require going to the store and buying them, which would require me admitting the fact that I was bribing my child with candy. It’s one thing to do it with stolen candy. It’s another thing if you’re spending her college fund on it.
That left me with lies. These came in handy when I weaned Lucy, and she took to comforting herself by sticking her hand down my shirt and grabbing hold of a nipple. It embarrasses me to write this, but really, it’s more embarrassing walking around in public while your child gropes you shamelessly. I’m all for her feeling secure and comfortable, but it’s hard for me to feel comfortable when complete strangers are getting a free show.
So, we compromised. I told her that my mopples, as she calls them, had been taken over by very small monsters. I also told her that the monsters would bite her if she put her hand anywhere near them. I’m not sure what she got out of the deal, but thinking of it as a compromise makes me feel better about lying to a two-year-old.
The technique worked beautifully for a couple of weeks. Whenever Lucy would snake her hand down my shirt, I’d just say, “monsters.”
She’d get a very scared look and slowly withdraw her hand. I've since learned that Lucy an altruistic streak. She took great care to let everyone we meet know what evil lurks beneath my shirt. As we’re out in the world, with Lucy riding my hip and my arm wrapped around her waist, her arms are free to point at my mopples and inform everyone in the vicinity what’s going on.
“These are monsters,” she says, opening her eyes very wide. “Right there.”
Eventually, Lucy figured out a way to beat the monsters. She started talking to them and stroking them gently. “I love you monsters,” she says, in her little, buttery voice. She has decided that the monsters are now friendly, which gives her license to poke around their nests.
And so that was the end of lying for me, an end that came at a somewhat unfortunate time. As part of Lucy’s general education, I am teaching her how to put on clothes. She’s glacially slow at this. But she has mastered stripping down to her skin. “I want to be nude,” she explains.
I suppose it’s only natural that frequent nudity has led her to discover some extremely personal parts of her body. She knew from discussions on the diaper pad what the general region is called.
“I’m touching my bottom,” she explained.
I couldn’t risk her getting friendly with any monsters who might live down there. So, I explained to her that that body part is actually called her vagina. I was cool. It was no big deal. I was just reporting the facts. No one could fault that. Lucy would grow up informed and wouldn’t feel any shame about her body. She’d never have that dream about showing up for school without her pants on. It was just flesh, after all.
And then Lucy went and studied the matter a little more thoroughly.
“What’s in my vagina?” she asked.
“Skin,” I said.
“No,” she said. “What’s in it? It feels like a sprinkle.”
I momentarily considered the possibility that one of the sprinkles in Lucy’s art box might have found its way in there. But then Lucy said, “No. It feels more like a peanut. What is it?”
Without my friends, Candy and Lies, all I could do was tell Lucy the truth, strange-sounding Latin words and all. She’s two, but she knows more about the female anatomy now than most grown men, and probably quite a few grown women. At least we were able to have the conversation while Lucy still thinks I’m the center of the world, and not just someone trying to embarrass her to death.
She’s brought up the topic a few more times since then, and has deemed her anatomy to be “pretty and shiny.”
So, I think I have managed to keep her safe from shame about her body. It would probably be fair to call her shameless. But that’s just fine. I will teach her modesty using my new foolproof parenting technique — once I figure out what it is.