“My mom is at home with my baby brother,” Ryan told me, with beguiling sincerity. “He’s really young, so she still has to feed him. He’s only 2 years old!” The conversation went on for several minutes in this way, and I found out all about Ryan’s younger brother. “He has brown hair!” “He likes yogurt!” “He likes to play with my toy cars!”
“Earlier you were telling me about your older sister,” I mentioned casually, not trying to trap him. I was mostly curious to see how he responded–I was a cat pawing at a half-interesting ball of string.
“Oh.” A pause, a blink. “She’s 20, so she doesn’t live with us. She lives in America.” Ryan nodded to himself, as though checking his mental atlas, scrolling through the tiny, well-thumbed pages of his young brain. “So we only see her sometimes.”
Ryan doesn’t have any siblings at all.
I know that, and Ryan knows that, and Ryan probably knows that I know that. I didn’t mention it, because calling a six year-old out for being a liar is a little harsh, and really I’m just happy to see the oral language development.
Working with small children, you grow accustomed to these flights of fancy and regular dalliances with abject falsehood. Children test the world around them to see if their words can capture truth, if they can capture untruth, if they can shape the way others think by using the real and the unreal. Words are just so much noise and it barely ever occurs to them the weight they might carry, the value of some kinds of words in one assembly versus those shaped in some other configuration. Lying is just another way of breath passing through your lungs, so why not give it a try and talk about the time your family lived in Nicaragua, or how often your parents let you eat chocolate for dinner?