We tell our kids that it’s not okay to lie. Broadly, this is true. But every adult understands that sometimes we have to bend a little so as not to break.
Clara wanted to know, “What does ‘a little white lie’ mean?”
“You know how mommy asks daddy if her outfit matches, and daddy says it looks fine?” I say, trailing off as I realize this might not be the most prudent example I could come up with to explain the concept of a white lie. I hem and haw for a few minutes before giving up and changing the subject.
I should have maybe tried a little harder to give eight-year-old Clara a satisfactory answer. A few nights later, God decided to teach me a little lesson.
“Dad! Come quick! There’s a spider!”
The call came shortly after bed time. Witnesses on the scene provided a description: eight legs and a spinneret—last seen entering the dark space between the wall and the dresser.
Stand back, kids. Daddy’s on the job.
He was small. It wasn’t going to be an easy job. The smaller they are the harder it is to deal with them definitively. It’s counterintuitive, I know, but big spiders make a crunch; itsy bitsy spiders, not so much.
The spiders come inside when the air turns chill. Dealing with them—and the hysteria they provoke—is my responsibility. I don’t mind being the go-to guy. I like it. When everyone runs away, I run in. As the Bloodhound Gang used to say, whenever there’s trouble, I’m there on the double.
Problem is, I’m not as quick as I used to be. These spiders are getting nimbler every year.
The gap between wall and dresser was narrow. I’d only have one shot. Although I doubted I’d be able to squish him in one take, for the sake of the kids, I didn’t let on. I made my move. I missed. The spider skittered away into the darkness.
“Did you get him Daddy?”
Deep breath. Grumble. “No, um, I think he fell down back there.”
“Can you see him? Where is he? Will he come back? Oh, Daddy, please get him.”
“I think he probably crawled through a crack in the wall and went back outside.”
Silence. They don’t buy it. Another deep breath. Better think of something quick, Mr. Bloodhound Gang.
“Yeah, I bet he was so scared to see my big hand swiping at him that he ran off. He learned his lesson all right. He knows what’s waiting for him if he comes back here. You won’t see him again. I promise.”
So lame. Why didn’t I just say that I’d gotten him? The place is probably crawling with spiders that we can’t see. What difference does one more make?
They climbed back into their beds but I knew they wouldn’t sleep. Their eyes were trained on that space between the wall and the dresser. I slipped out the door and started down the stairs. All was quiet, for about four minutes.
“Dad! He’s back! I can see him. He’s on the ceiling.” Sigh. My head slumps to my chest. Why can’t it ever be easy?
Then I remember: I’m the go-to guy.
I vow that no matter what happens this time I will tell the children that I killed the spider. I do not relish the prospect of telling this little white lie, but my evening, and the peace of mind of all in this house, depends upon it. I enter the room, mount a wobbly stool, and with one confident motion stab at the ceiling with my tissue.
What happens next is not clear. In fact, I’m pretty sure the spider has fallen into the open collar of my shirt. No matter, I came here to do one thing and one thing only—to convince the children that the spider is dead and that they can sleep in peace. I dismount the stool with a flourish.
“Did you get him this time?”
“Yup. Got him this time.” I brandish the crumpled tissue, being sure to keep my hand moving. “See? Absolutely got him for sure.” I think I feel a strand of spider silk settling across my face. I casually wave it away.
“So everybody get nice and tucked in because there are no spiders in this room anymore. Nope. I got that one right here in my hand and he’s not going to bother anyone in this room tonight. So sleep tight everyone. See you in the morning!”
So, there’s your little white lie. A textbook example. It doesn’t exactly feel good to tell it, but the greater good is served.
Life is complicated. That’s what I’ll tell Clara when she gets a little older. You should always tell the truth. But God gives mommies and daddies the job of figuring out how to put a little peace and quiet into the world. Sometimes that takes a little white lie.