This last May, Mitchel, the eight year old, announced to us all that he was participating in the school’s talent show (there are no winners or prizes , no one is allowed to boo, clapping only…ummm…so the point would be WHAT if there are no winners?). Anyhow he told us he was going to do a hula-hoop routine to music. “I didn’t know you could hula-hoop” I said casually to him. “Oh, yeah mom, I’m super good. I hope you can come, it’s at two o’clock tomorrow.” In my mind I start shuffling afternoon appointments around to clear the 2 o’clock hour while simultaneously wondering if we even own a hula-hoop. As the youngest child of six Mitchel’s esteem is self-generated and sometimes a little, shall we say, delusional. Not that I would ever tell him he sucks at anything. The siblings take care of that. But they have clearly not yet broken his spirit even slightly or he would have at least SOME doubt about his hula-hooping skills and perhaps realize he would be putting himself at risk of ridicule, despite the talent show rules of engagement, if he COULD NOT actually hula-hoop.
Well, Mitchel surprised us all. 2nd to last on stage, the boy PERFORMED. He kept that hula-hoop swirling and twirling: hips, wrists, even around his neck, all to the rhythm of an upbeat song. Who knew? My heart swelled; he’d actually told us the truth and it was cause for celebration. Parents lingered after the show, congratulating kids as they went back to class to collect their things to go home for the weekend. As Grant and I were mentally calculating just when we would get the call from a Nike agent for the first ever hula-hooping contract, we ended up talking to a couple of friends, husband and wife who have a son in Mitchel’s class. We giggle about the great talent of our children for a minute and then one of them asked us “Hey…just curious…does Mitchel by any chance have an uncle who has a peacock and also a samurai sword?” Grant and I look at each other and inwardly groan…just when we were on a roll. It turns out that their class had an artist come in to teach the children how to color peacocks and during the discussion Mitchel informed the class that he had an uncle who had a peacock that was very, very annoying and he let Mitchel chop its head off with a samurai sword. Yes. I know. Not good.
We decided to wait to bring this up to Mitchel later and not wreck the glow of stardom that he had earned fair and square. While I admit to looking up phone numbers to a few local child psychologists just to be prepared, I knew it was probably simple attention seeking, like the time he came bursting into the room with a Ziploc baggie in his hand, face serious, somberly asking “GUESS whose BLOOD is in this BAGGY”. Or maybe it was just his creative (creepy?) way of saying he did not want to color a silly peacock.
But the next day the conversation presented itself when Mitchel stood at my office door grinning with something behind his back. “I colored an awesome picture yesterday.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, mentally preparing to see a picture of a decapitated bloody peacock. Beaming he pulled out a lovely, colored chalk on black paper picture of a peacock. “Wow, that’s really good!” I said…
and then “soooo…what’s this about you having an uncle with a peacock and samurai sword?”
Mitchel paled visibly. “Where did you hear that?”
“Oh honey, when will you realize that I know absolutely EVERYTHING that goes on in your life and that there is no way you will ever, ever do anything without me knowing about it? What were you thinking, telling such a crazy fib?”
“I don’t know mom! It was like my brain was telling me ‘no, no, no, don’t say that!’ but my brain just could not stop my mouth from saying the words.”
“Well, don’t you suppose that people think you’re interesting enough without you telling them such crazy stories?” and this is where I have a moment of uncomfortable self-recognition. You see, there are people in the world who are, shall we say, embellishers. I am one of them. My second born son Dillin is also one. (I remember when he, ironically also eight years old at the time, told his entire class that he had invented a robot that could do his chores and homework for him).
Now, granted, there is a very fine line between embellishing (telling stories that are based on at least SOME truth and therefore hard to disprove) and full-out lying (which generally has absolutely no connection to the truth, so it’s easy to get CAUGHT, case in point, robots, peacocks, etc.). It was my responsibility as a ‘good mother’ to punish Mitchel for his outright lie and to teach him to how to use his creativity in a more believable way. So I banned him from playing with samurai swords for the rest of his life and no matter how much he begged and pleaded we would NOT be getting a peacock anytime soon.
Fast forward to a few days later when we were watching the movie “The Hobbit” I remember jumping up in my chair with excitement when Gandolf the Grey said “All good stories deserve embellishment.”