The Conscience Gap

To Lie or Not to Lie?!

It all went quiet in the living room. That’s generally not a good sign. Between two kids and the dog there is usually some movement, muttered chunterings, outright yelling, the clunk, grind or blip of toys being used and abused. This is comforting. They are the sounds that say ‘All is well’.

But all went quiet.

All was clearly not well.

Thinking back, scraping the dim reaches of my subconscious, I had been aware of a sharper-then-normal clatter. The unnatural ‘crack’ of something that shouldn’t contemplate such sounds. These noises occur from time-to-time and something resonates deep inside when they do, like a primeval drive to leap in and sort whatever problem has arisen. Yet there also exists the parental-sanity-chip that overrides this drive. You know, the one that just hopes the sound never happened, and that the meaning behind it will quietly go away.

Alas, this time, no.

Joe appeared. Padding into the kitchen. Bowl in hand. Broken. He presented a studied picture of innocence. Pretty impressive in retrospect. He must have genuinely believed in the fabrication of a lie he was about to impart.

‘It’s interesting Mummy,’ he began … Even his body langauge had been sorted into a casual half-shrug and open-handed gesture of bemusement. He continued …

‘It’s broken, but I didn’t even throw it.’

Bam! In that simple phrase, at just three days away from the dizzy age of 4, my boy fell into the Conscience Gap. This is the name I give to the space that exists between the desire to Cover-Your-Backside-With-A-Lie, and the Knowledge-That-Honesty-Is-Best.

These two places are worlds apart, yet inextricably linked. And there is no way to reconcile them in the same sentence. The translation of my lad’s simple statement goes something like this:

‘Mummy, I know I shouldn’t have thrown the bowl, but the fact is I did. And it broke. And now I feel bad because I didn’t mean to break it, and I guess you’re going to be cross. I was just angry in that moment. It was an impulsive act, a burst of frustration that was never meant to cause damage. I want to be honest, but I’m not quite sure how to fess-up and avoid your wrath, so I’ll hedge my bets and tell an honest lie.’

‘It’s broken, but I didn’t even throw it.’

The Conscience Gap. A place where our children begin to learn about responsibility, and truth, and lies and consequences. It’s a tough place to be, but I’m glad he’s arrived and I can be alongside him to guide him through.

I don’t mind lies like this at all. They show me that he is slowly learning right from wrong. Their innocence means he is unafraid to test this new space he has found. And I can be there to hold his hand through his uncertainty. I’m proud that his conscience is kicking in. Maybe I’m doing something right after all.

Girls can’t play with cars …

© TheBusyBrain (Stopped by Curiosity), via Wikimedia Commons

© TheBusyBrain (Stopped by Curiosity), via Wikimedia Commons

 

… in the same way as boys do. I have decided that this is one of life’s Universal Truths.

 

Here’s how a car-play session goes between Joe and Daddy:

Joe: Brrrrrrrmmm. BrrrrrRRRRMMMMM!!

Daddy: Brrrrrmmm. Rrrrmmmmm. BRRRRRUUUUMMMM!

Joe: ‘Again, again!’

Beams and nods. And repeat. Many times.

 

Now.  Here’s how a car-play session goes between Joe and Me:

Joe: Brrrrrrrmmm. BrrrrrRRRRMMMMM!!

Me: Brrrrrmmm. Rrrrmmmmm. BRRRRRUUUUMMMM!

Joe: ‘Not like THAT Mummy!’

Smashes cars together in frustration. Stomps off in a huff. (Joe, not me. Most of the time.)

 

Eh?

 

As a relatively self-aware Mum I know that I find it easier to relate to what are traditionally considered to be ‘Girl’ games. In the early days I used to try and encourage Joe to make a garage for his cars, and tuck them into bed. Naivety doesn’t even come close. In my simplistic mind it had worked for Ella so surely it was worth a try, right?

At some point it registered that Joe is a BOY. So I watched him playing with Daddy. And I made mental notes. And I tried very very hard to man-up my car-play:

  • I practiced my ‘BBRRRRRUUUUMMM’ in the shower. To amused looks from my other half.
  • I Googled ‘playing with toy cars’. Have you ever done this? Fascinating. And in some cases a bit, well, weird!
  • I watched Toy Story. Again.
  • I even crept into my boy’s room during school-time to have a play on my own in a desperate attempt to jettison any remaining awkwardness around all things mechanical.
  • I made myself available for motor-mania at every opportunity.

Things have improved without a doubt, but there is no getting away from it – Daddy-car-play is still preferable to Mummy-car-massacre in his eyes. Sigh. If Daddy’s not around then my pathetic attempts will generally suffice. Under sufferance, and amid much eye-rolling and fist-clenching from my boy. He’s very patient.

I used to think it was just me, but this weekend an impromptu session of Mum-therapy showed me I’m far from alone.

Dropping Joe off at a friend’s house for a birthday party I was corralled into joining the other Mums in their garden for a glass of the red stuff. Imagine. Relaxing on a Saturday afternoon instead of chipping ice off the freezer or getting tooled-up to do battle with the oven-spray. You know, they really had to twist my arm.

The party was in honour of a little pal of Joe’s who has just turned three (my boy is three-and-a-half). In a perfect reflection of text-book-preschoolers the group, which numbered four, spent a happy time largely ignoring each other. Until one decided it was time to play on the ride-on tractor. At which point cherry-picking, caterpillar-hunting, and random digging were simultaneously abandoned and the little men swarmed around the vehicular honey-pot in a mass of grubby knees and pointy-elbows.

We Mummy-guests offered objective support from a distance in our bubble of relief while the resident Mum exercised her parental muscles to resolve the conflict with a lesson in sharing and a fair degree of small-boy-lifting and re-siting (who needs kettlebells?). Re-filling her wine glass we did the empathy thing and then collectively reflected on boys and their toys.

To a woman we have all experienced the car-play scenario above. Many many many times. And it seems impossible to resolve, despite our best creative attempts.

I’m sure there are Mums out there whose car-play is to the satisfaction of their young male offspring. but now I know I’m not entirely alone I don’t feel so bad. I do my best. In car-play with my boy, in character-play with my girl. And every single time I do anything remotely child-related. That’s what being a parent is about after all. No instructions, no rule book. Just a terrifying fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ride where the only thing you can do with any certainty is – your best. The odd cry of ‘Vive la différence!’ works too.

And so does the odd glass of red.