I am a firm believer, that being absolutely honest with your kids is the best thing to do, at least for the really important questions (within age appropriate parameters of course).
I also believe that the "innocent magic" that is childhood, which already disappears too quickly, would be gone in a single breath if we didn't allow ourselves a few "dishonest" moments with our children, in which we don't have to outright "lie" to them, but withholding some key pieces of information can serve the greater good, and that brief and precious stage of childhood magic can live on for a few more hours...days...months...even years.
My son lost his 4th tooth today. He was preparing the tiny white sacrifice of his youth for the "Bringer of Small Change and/or Bills". Tonight (as he was writing a very detailed letter to the Tooth Fairy, complete with gifts (A "Knock Knock Joke" he made up (i.e. it makes sense only to him) and "Medallion Prize" (made with paper, crayons, and scissors of course)), he asked if she was teeny tiny or real person sized".
Given the fact the tooth has fallen out on a day when I have not a single dime of spare cash lingering in the bottom of my purse, I admit I had a momentary flash of brilliance that included thinking that I should tell him there was no such thing as the Tooth Fairy and give him an IOU on the loot. (I'll save for another blog post that he knows what an IOU is because he operates the loan bailout program in this house and I'm currently in debt $40 bucks to his Lightening McQueen wallet).
Fortunately I delegated the task of finding cash before morning to the loan shark's Dad, and decided to preserve the innocence for awhile longer.
"I'd like to think she's teeny tiny", I said (not technically a lie).
"Did you know Nicolas' Dad is also a Tooth Fairy?", came the reply. "And Madelynne's Mom?"
"Really?...I had no idea...Maybe I can get a job like that someday too.", was my reply. (also, not technically a lie).
And that was that. No more questions about it, or discussion. I was prepared to wiggle my way around the topic the way he'd wiggled that tooth around the now empty space in his mouth. He happily went on his way making gifts, writing materials for his monologue, and trying to predict how many days before he can extract the last remaining wiggly front tooth from it's not so secure location.
As the evening went on, he wanted to know if I had lost any teeth when I was little. How old I was when it happened? What did the Tooth Fairy bring me again (.41 cents FYI...one of each, quarter, dime, nickel, penny). I thought I'd be smart and show him some old photos, complete with missing teeth.
I dragged out an old album, which had a wide range of photos from my side of the family, and we went through dozens of photos, from all stages and ages of my own life and those of my parents/ grandparents/ aunts/ uncles/ siblings/ cousins/etc. lives. He soon lost interest in the teeth related photos, and asked many questions about different people, places, and scenes from the pictures.
Coming across one photo of me from the late 80's, he says, "Mommy, you look so nice". "How old were you?".
"About 22", I reply. (total honesty)
"Were you married?", he asks. I immediately reply with "yes", knowing full well in my head that while it wasn't a lie...I was married, but that it was my previous life...the one that I had before I became divorced, and married the wonderful man who was to become his father.
Without missing one beat he comes back with, "But you were in your thirties when you married Daddy."
It's at this point where the expression on my face becomes frozen in some painful configuration that I'm sure will leave "worry lines", and the explosion of things going on inside my head starts to resemble the early signs of a stroke or seizure. Who the heck ever wanted a smarty pants kid?!?! I can't remember what I had for breakfast today, but he can remember some random statement of fact that we might have told him during some past conversation. AND WHO THE HECK TAUGHT HIM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIS TWENTIES AND THIRTIES...HE'S FIVE!!!!!
Don't get me wrong. I don't have a problem at all with my son knowing that I was married before, or that sometimes marriages don't work out, or that sometimes young people make big life decisions too early and without fully thinking out the long term road map. I just didn't expect to be dealing with it when he's FIVE.
I decide on the spot that I'm not going to lie to him, nor stretch the truth, nor will I phrase the answer to give the illusion of another reality. I'll answer whatever he asks, just like I always said I'd do, and as I've always done (well, about the important stuff).
So I tell him that he's right. I was in my thirties when I married Daddy.
"You were married before"?, he asks.
"Yep" (I'm keeping it extra simple now on the replies...should have thought of THAT sooner).
"What was his name?", he wants to know.
He states the scenario as he understands it back to me, "You were married to someone named Dan when you were in your twenties".
"Yep", I confirm.
He hugs me while adding, "But you didn't have any kids because you were waiting for me to be here?" (WOW...this topic might just need it's own post too).
"That's right" I tell him as I hug him back.
He goes back to flipping through the photos, looks the picture of me one more time, closes the book, and inquires, "Did you tell Daddy?"
"Absolutely!", I exclaim. "Daddy knows".
"Did you tell him the day you got married or before?"
So honesty is the best policy. I haven't changed my mind on that. But it amazes me that this child...my BABY...the one who believes in Tooth Fairies, Easter Bunny, Santa, and Daddy Magic...the one who thinks his class almost caught a leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day... can at the same time believe in all the magical wonders of childhood, can have such clarity, such depth, and understanding about so many non childish things.
Trying to keep a straight face, I let him know that I told Daddy before the day we got married, which he seemed to approve of by a nodding of his head. And with the same look he gave me when I swore I was going to repay the $40 bucks, he asks...
"Are you sure Daddy knows?"