Friday, April 20, 2012

Being True

G loves “aminals.” He also has some balance and large-motor impairments that we are tackling from various angles. Therapeutic riding seemed a good way to combine these factors. At the Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Institute (, Lorna Young and other amazing people (staff and volunteers) work with children and horses to the joy and benefit of all involved.

One time, we were milling about waiting for G’s lesson to begin and we saw the cutest jolie-laide shaggy old donkey kinda loitering a few feet away, all “Just hangin’ out. Nothin’ goin’ on here, folks.”

G and Z were entranced by the motley creature and asked Lorna about it. “That’s Frances,’ she informed them. She pointed to one of the stable hands, who was sweeping the floor a few yards away. “That’s his mother over there.”

G looked over at the woman, and then at the nonchalant donkey.

“I will take that as a joke,” said my boy, with a totally straight face.

Being literal, G often thinks people are lying when the “liar” in question might feel he or she is doing nothing of the sort.  He will say, “___ lied to me today. He said he would play with me at recess and then he played basketball instead.” It is so hard for him to be flexible and see incidents like this as change rather than betrayal. Having, also, an encyclopedic memory, he notes inconsistencies and reads them as untruths as well.  Therefore, among other things, he finds it profoundly disjunctive when people act differently in different situations, and with -- or toward -- different people. Your dork-kid who rejects his dork friends when the in-crowd comes around, your customer who is polite in a fancy restaurant and rude to a cashier at the 7-11, your parent who tells a child s/he is eating “nothing” when s/he has just shoved a piece of candy in her/his mouth…these “normal” people are disturbing to G.

I rather know where he gets all of this –the literality, the trash-can memory, the perceptions of dishonesty. As an adult, though, I am able to choose to associate mostly with people who present fewer such conundra. G doesn’t yet have that discernment – or that luxury.  He gets confused, hurt and angry in commonplace contexts.

Nonetheless I will never advise him to be untrue to himself. I’ve never forgotten learning the literal definition of integrity in graduate school: it comes from a coin that is, on the inside, what it purports to be on the outside. G’s inside is pure gold, but that integral and external softness is going to get him a bit scuffed.

So I’m going to suggest to him that the next time someone “lies” to him he might tell himself, “I will take that as a joke.” The next time he asks Z to play and she says, “Ask me again later and I will say yes,” and, later, she doesn’t [whole ‘nother post]: ”I will take that as a joke.” When someone utters a small white lie that to him feels like a violation: “I will take that as a joke.”

Perhaps that’s not such a bad idea for all of us. 

Full Spectrum Mama


  1. I recently learned that I have HUGE issues with the word, "lying." Papa D used it casually with Little E, and I blew my lid.

    There's a whole chapter in Nurture Shock about how kids think grownups are lying when our predictions don't come true.

    I tried to move us to "That doesn't sound like the truth." "How can that be true?" and other softer language.

    I'm interested in the fact that G - in an adoptive family with beloved pets! - doesn't have a more expansive view of the definition of "mothering."

    Maybe you could show him the photos in this blog ( - of the goat, the monkey and the dog? - and ask him to reconsider his opinion.

    1. Thanks, dear, for your thoughts!
      We are working on language that avoids the word "lying" while still addressing what bothers us in these situations (often the justice aspect but sometimes just temporal stuff). And, guess what, I am writing about it, though not posting yet...soon. The other piece is, yes, G definitely has an expansive definition of parenthood, for example, he has a cat "son." Here, he was considering whether this particular woman had in fact given birth to that donkey...I think?? Love

  2. teee- heee. Can I borrow this phrase?


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