Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Liar, Liar, House (not) on Fire

The house across the street, a sweet little place where a succession of neighbors have lived before each set had a kid (or, in one case, a second kid) and decided to move somewhere bigger, is being torn down. Our neighbors were over there yesterday salvaging plants and hardwood flooring, and today the firefighters are there for a practice session. They're making fake smoke and breaking the doors down and generally putting on a fine show. The Mermaid Girl and I watched for a good long time out the window, her all princesslike in her pink satin nightgown and the crown and pink earrings she "won" by playing a phantom opponent in the vile yet beloved "Pretty Pretty Princess" board game someone gave her for her 5th birthday.

As the firefighters carried in huge sheets of plywood, MG suddenly said, "Oh, right, I remember those."

"You do?"

"Mm-hmm. Last year when I was in kindergarten, a house across the street caught on fire, and the firefighters came. they put out the fire, and then they brought those in. I don't remember what they did with them, though."

"A house caught on fire? Last year?"

"Yes. It was choice time, and we all went to the windows and watched. Mrs. L. told us to stop, but we didn't."


"Someone left a stove on."

"How did you know that?"

"The firefighters came afterwards and told us."

"They came to your class??"

"They came to the school."

I let it drop. I have absolutely no idea if this really happened. Last summer when MG was stung by a bee at the hot springs, the medical worker asked her if she'd ever been stung before, and she gave a detailed account of how a bee had stung her at day care when she was three: She'd been outside, she said, playing on the climber, and a bee stung her right on the leg, right there, and Teacher B had pulled out the stinger.

"I don't remember that happening," I said.

"Well, it did," insisted MG.

"I never saw an incident report about it," I said. I might not remember every report they sent about a skinned knee or a bite, but I know I wouldn't have forgotten a bee sting. Still, her memory of the incident was so exact...

"Oh," she said airily, "I told them they didn't have to write one."

Right. Not bloody likely. That was when I started to get spooked. Most of her lies are pretty minor, and she couldn't know that making up the bee sting story could have huge implications for our knowledge of whether or not she was likely to have an anaphylactic reaction to this one or the next one.

It was cute back when she was 2 and the haircutting guy asked "how old are you, sweetie?" and she coolly replied, after looking him up and down and calculating how much she thought she could add and get away with it, "Five". But she's almost six and a half now, and an excellent storyteller. She knows how to pile on the believable detail, how to keep a straight face. It's a pretty good bet that the more she protests and insists "I'm not lying!", the more likely it is that she is.

I know all this is developmentally appropriate, that she's testing out the difference between truth and fiction, fact and hope. RW and I do our best to underreact to her fibs and stories, and not to put her in a situation where she feels like she has to lie.

But it's strange to live with someone you can't believe. It means I'll never know whether she really saw a house catch on fire in kindergarten last year, or if she just made it up out of a wish to seem experienced in all things. I just hope we can help her grow out of it before the consequences become more serious.


Anonymous ppb said...

um, perhaps it means that she's going to be a creative writer?

5:20 PM  
Blogger liz said...

MM does the same thing, but not nearly so convincingly.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous paige said...

We hear a lot of similar tales from Uncle 8. He's been telling them for a couple of years now. If we listen to his story too closely, he insists 'it' happened with Pops (on one of their many journeys). He's very convincing, even when we know he isn't telling the truth. Much like Francie's teacher in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I often remind Elliott that 'it' was a very tiny pie to have saved the lives of so many people. At the same time, I really encourage him to do some story writing as well as story telling, since he enjoys it so much. This is usually met with great disdain, as well as protests that his story is true, but I've noticed that he does make the attempt to convey story to paper more often. I hope he'll make the full transition soon--this developmental stage really should be just about over for him!

12:56 PM  

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