I Cannot Lie

Boy stading by lake throwing a bucket of water

Little boy, I cannot lie to you.

I know the status that truth holds, in your beautiful and remarkable mind. It is the greatest imperative, essential for peace of mind, for the world to keep spinning. I know. I love the truth too. I have learned to live with lies, to use them, if I must. But you cannot. I do not know if you ever will.

The truth is a necessity and so I cannot lie – not if I am to keep your trust, not if I am to help you, not if I am to be the safe place to which you retreat, when the world does not make sense and there is no truth to be found.

So when you asked me, “Mummy, what happens when we die?”, I told you the truth. I told you that many people believe we go to heaven, but we do not know for sure. Even though every fibre of my being wanted to tell you that heaven is real, that we will be together forever, I knew that you would hear the lie and that would hurt you more than the truth.

When you asked me “Mummy, what is the very longest that a human can live?”, I did not lie. I wanted to say a million years and a day, until the mountains crumble, until the oceans run dry, until the stars are spent. But I told the truth.

When you asked me if Santa was real, if magic was real, I wanted so desperately to whisper the lie that would keep you small and full of wonder. But I did not. I told you that Santa was not a living man today, that the magic we see in books and films is not real, but there are other kinds of magic, if you look. The way I love you, all of us together on Christmas morning, the joy we share with the ones we love – they are a kind of magic, if you think about it. And you agreed that there was no lie there.

Sometimes, gorgeous boy, you are too scared to sleep. You say your dreams are always bad, that when you wake you are never sure if they are real. You wish you did not have to sleep at all. Last week you dreamt your classmates took scissors to your schoolwork, cutting it into confetti too small to save. Miss C. tried to fix it for you, tried to cover it in glue, but she could not. You clung to me sobbing. “Is it true Mummy? Is it true? Did they cut my work into little pieces?”

No, my love, no. Your work is safe. I know how hard it can be for you to put your thoughts on paper. I know the blood, sweat and tears that go into each piece. I know how proud you are, when you are done. I know how bad dreams steal your truth, just for a little while.

That day, at school, Miss C. helped you to make a dream catcher. You were excited to show me the twirled pipe-cleaners and ribbons and brightly coloured feathers, to tell me that it would catch bad dreams.

A dream catcher made by a child, hanging down from a curtain with the legs of a wooden toy above

When you asked me “Mummy, do you think it will work? Do you think it will stop my bad dreams?” I wanted to lie, so badly. I wanted to tell you that of course it would, of course you would sleep deeply and peacefully, that no one would ruin your work, that mummy would never leave you lost, alone, that your teeth wound never break and crumble in your mouth ever again, not even in your dreams. I wanted to believe it. But I could not say it.

“It might help. You made it to help and that might make your brain feel a bit better and send you some lovely dreams. I cannot promise you that you will never have another bad dream though, sweetheart. Everyone has bad dreams sometimes. But I can promise you that they are not real, that they cannot hurt you.”

Your face fell but you did not cry. I know the logic made sense to you. I know you heard the truth. The truth always holds some comfort, even when it is a truth you fear.

And so, my love, I cannot lie.

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