My stepdaughter asks me how the dinosaurs died? I look at her, wondering if I should tell her the truth.
"Well," I begin, "some people think that dinosaurs were killed off by an asteroid."
"What's an asteroid?"
"It's like a giant rock from outer space."
She accepts the explanation, but I wonder if I've scared her. "Don't worry," I say, "that happened a long, long time ago. We are safe."
"It won't happen again?"
I hate not being honest, but I tell her that I'm absolutely positive it won't happen again.
She nods okay.
As adults it's our job to protect children and to preserve their innocence. Sometimes that includes lying.
We lie about the fun things: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and The Tooth Fairy.
We lie about reality: I'm not crying. I just got something in my eye.
We lie about our uncertainty: There are no more asteroids. They died off with the dinosaurs.
We lie about life: If you stay in school and work hard you will be able to do anything you want
We lie about death: Goldie went to live with other dogs on a farm. He is very happy there.
I'm starting to notice these things because she asks me the other day while I'm taking her to the potty if I will always tell her the truth? She's bright for her age and has figured out that adults are sometimes trying to pull the wool over her eyes, even if their intentions are good.
I swallow, wondering how to answer. I could be really truthful and say 'yes, unless lying is for your protection or to keep your parents from getting upset.' Instead I respond simply, "yes, I will always tell you the truth."
She uses her new found power right away. "What's in the boy's bathroom and why can't girls go in there?"
"Um, potties are in the boy's bathroom and girls can't go in there because there's a 'no girls allowed' rule."
"I know," she says impatiently. "But why?"
She looks at me as if she's put me in check. I hedge. "What do you think?"
"Well," she rolls her eyes to the side, "my friend says she knows."
"Yes, she says its because the boy's bathroom is haunted and girls are more afraid of ghosts. Is that true?"
As a step-mother my role is nebulous; I'm some kind of strange hybrid between parent and friend. I think about my options: It's not my place to tell her about the differences between boys and girls. It's also not my place to agree that the bathroom could be haunted.
I kneel down beside her. "That's an interesting idea your friend has. What do you believe?"
She puts a finger to her chin, considering. "Well, I want to believe the bathroom is haunted. That's just more fun."
"It does sound more fun."
"Then let's do it. Let's believe that together." She takes my hand and leads me back to her daddy who is waiting for us in our booth.
"What did you ladies talk about?" my husband asks. My step-daughter and I share a secret smile.
"Just girl talk," I say.
"Yeah, girl talk," she echoes back.
My step-daughter pulls out her dolls. The small doll begins asking the big doll questions: Why are some people mean? Are monsters real? Where does the tooth fairy live?
The big doll replies, "what do you think?"
And the small doll answers back, a long happy stream of consciousness. The small doll has lots of ideas about the world and the big doll listens.
Someday, I may have to keep my promise to always tell the truth, but for now I think I'm safe. For now, I'll just be the one who has her examine the world. Through that, the truth will come.