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The dilemma of the white lie

Generally speaking, I’m all about honesty. Why has Mommy locked herself in the bathroom? It’s called food poisoning. And the door is locked because it’s possible your eyes would never fully recover upon witnessing what is happening on the other side. Why are we having hot cocoa and cereal for dinner? Because those are two things you know how to fix, and they won’t make Mommy lock herself in the bathroom again upon smelling them.

But, as anyone who’s been around a two- and three-year-old knows, there are times when the questions are as hard to answer as a telephone survey at dinnertime. Case in point — we rented a car during our recent vacation in Delaware. Emma, our three-year-old, wanted to know who this beautiful, new set of wheels we were using belonged to.

“It’s National Rental’s,” my all-knowing husband offered. “Yeah, but whose is it?” she asked again. “It’s a rental. Not ours,” he said, feeling a surge of more questions arising. I turned to him and whispered, “Do you REALLY feel like explaining what the word rental means? She just needs a name. Any name will do.”

He sighed. “Okay. This car belongs to Lee Ann.” “Lee Ann?” she repeated. “Yes, Lee Ann.” “Oh, okay.” And then there was momentary silence. Until she needed to know exactly where we were going and how long it would take to get there, as though her three-year-old sensibilities had a fine grasp of what Rehoboth Beach and Two Hours meant. Nonetheless, we told her the truth on both counts and were on our way.

We’ve been back from our vacation for four days now. Yesterday Emma asked what we did with Lee Ann’s car. “Whose car?” I asked. “Lee Ann’s,” she repeated. “Oh. Um, we gave it back.” “Soooo, where does Lee Ann live?”

To make a long story short, we’re back to figuring out how to explain the word rental to a three-year-old. I’m curious, though, how do you all handle all the Whos, the Why’s and the What’s That? without constantly falsifying the truth?


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  1. I give my 3-year-old just enough information to keep her happy. You’re right: she doesn’t need to know the complexities of the word “rental.” And sometimes it’s just easier to tell her that Lee Ann lives around the corner. 🙂

  2. Mini Me found all the teeth that I had been saving that the Tooth Fairy had supposedly taken. (I know. It’s weird. Maybe I’m the only one who saves my kids teeth.) When she asked why I had them, I told her the Tooth Fairy gave them to me, so I can always remember when my children were little. She accepted that answer without having her faith shaken in the Tooth Fairy. Although she is upset that she can’t get paid for them again.

  3. Good one, Annie! Oh, I just thought of another one. Haddie is THE WORST TOOTH BRUSHER ON THE EARTH. Our 5-year-old neighbor has been losing her teeth like crazy. One day, Haddie came home and asked if it was because she doesn’t brush.

    I didn’t deny it.

  4. We have a rule that mommy doesn’t have to answer questions when she is driving, changing a diaper, in the bathroom, or in the middle of cooking. Those seem to be the times when I am too busy to explain honest answers so I just don’t do it. And if I don’t have time to answer a certain question properly I just say, “That is a question you will have to save for daddy.”

    One son (5 yrs old) has found a loophole in my strategy, though. He doesn’t ask questions, nope, he just states facts that are seriously wrong and need WAY more mental power to correct than I ever seem to have at any given time. Here is one that almost made me choke last month, “Heavenly Father killed Jesus and that is why we have blood on Easter.” Yeeeeeah, count yourself lucky that you only have to worry about explainging the word rental.

  5. I keep all their teeth, too, Annie. How can one possibly throw their loinfruit’s body parts into the trash with the potato peels and used-up tissues?! It just feels wrong.

    What great advice, Amber and Lizzy. Thanks for sharing!!

  6. I tell the truth as often as possible and make an effort to just slow down and answer questions the best way I can. If I don’t know the answer I am just honest about it and we find out together. I am actually beginning to learn things from my 2 1/2 year old b/c I constantly have to look stuff up i.e. “How many moons does Jupiter have?” Learn something new every day….

  7. Oooh, tough one – because we have moved on to dealing with DECLAN’s white lies! grrrr!

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