The other day we were driving home from somewhere and Riley was rooting around in the cupholder attached to his booster seat, grousing because he couldn’t find a Lego he’d dropped in there. For no particular reason I said well, maybe the tiny alligator that lives in the cupholders accidentally ate it.

No way, Mom, he said. Alligators are too big to live in cupholders.

Not this one, I told him. This alligator is super tiny, because it lives on the crumbs that fall in there.

It’s too tiny to bite people? he asked.

Oh yeah, I said. Besides, this alligator’s really nice. It doesn’t want to bite people. It just wants to eat the crumbs from your crackers and cookies and things.

Well why don’t I ever see it? he asked.

Because it’s scared of people. I mean, to the alligator you’re like a huge giant. The alligator doesn’t know you’re actually a friendly boy.

Riley asked all sorts of questions about the alligator, and later he wanted to make a little bed for the alligator so it wouldn’t get too cold at night. He made a pillow out of an old sock, tucked in a washcloth for the blanket, and dropped a piece of waffle on top. There, he said with satisfaction.

The next day when we got back in the car, he shouted with surprise at the note waiting for him in his cupholder.

This is from the ALLIGATOR, he breathed. Its name is Al . . Allie.

He went on: I can’t believe it! I can’t believe the alligator left me a note! I’m so happy the alligator likes me, Mom.


So, you tell me: was that wrong?


100 Responses to “On lying”

  1. Chloe on February 28th, 2011 9:01 pm

    Oh my gosh, HOW SWEET is this? LOVE it :)

  2. petullant on February 28th, 2011 9:39 pm

    It’s only wrong if when he’s 21 he still doesn’t realize there was never a tiny alligator living in the cupholder. Just like I was 21 and didn’t realize that our compost pile didn’t magically grow pumpkins and watermelons but that my dad just planted them. Which would be fine to just believe it but I TOLD people about this magical compost pile we had growing up. UNTIL I did it when my dad was around and he came clean. OH THE EMBARRASSMENT.

  3. kat on February 28th, 2011 10:32 pm

    are you kidding?! love, love it.

  4. Erin on February 28th, 2011 10:52 pm

    what’s cool is that he wasn’t pissed it’s a girl.

  5. Amy Q on March 1st, 2011 12:25 am

    That’s so great! We have fairies who live at our house and who leave presents. Its all part of the magic of being a kid.

  6. Stephanie on March 1st, 2011 6:23 am

    HECK no!! That’s AWESOME! :)

  7. Cassie on March 1st, 2011 6:57 am

    That’s no worse than dragging your kids to church every Sunday for their entire life and telling them there is an invisible man who lives in the sky and controls their every action.

  8. Brenda on March 1st, 2011 7:10 am

    Once we took our 5-year-old to the park and brought three millipedes home with us so that he could examine them more closely and let them crawl up and down his arms for a while. When we had to let them go, he was really sad and cried after seeing them burrow into the soil. That night, my husband wrote a note on our living room whiteboard on the millipedes’ behalf, thanking James for letting them go so that they could go find food and reunite with their families. The note was signed off by “Millie”. Our son was delighted and ever so honoured that the millipedes came back and wrote him a thank you note.

  9. melissa on March 1st, 2011 7:43 am

    Haha the only thing wrong with this is that you probably underestimate how long you’re going to have to maintain the charade. Do you know how many notes and stories and reasons and whatnot you’re going to have to come up with? Good luck :)

  10. Susie on March 1st, 2011 7:46 am

    Whoa, I may be the only voice of dissent here…and I’m even a little conflicted. My boyfriend and I have always said that we don’t plan to do the whole Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny thing with our son because we want him to know that Mom and Dad always tell him the truth, ALWAYS. Even when it’s hard to heard. But reading all these responses makes me wonder if he’ll miss a fundamental imagination element of childhood or some crap like that. I’m a little torn. I love the idea of him exercising his creativity and imagination, but I hate the idea of him ever questioning if I’m telling him the truth. And I’m thinking it won’t hurt him not to tell him fairy tales, but it might hurt him if I do tell him fairy tales and then have to explain that they’re not true. Again, I’m conflicted…and I’d welcome any thoughts on my lone opinion.

  11. Susie on March 1st, 2011 7:48 am

    P.S. I suppose I should add that, being so conflicted about this topic, I certainly don’t have any strong feelings about other people telling their kids tales like Santa/T.F./E.B and Allie Gator (hi, Linda!) I just don’t think I’m going to do that with my kid. (Insert nervous laugh. I seriously don’t want to start a flame war here or anything.)

  12. joaaanna on March 1st, 2011 8:10 am

    I love, love, love it! We had George the Ghost at our house when I was a kid. He was the one who was always responsible for a door being blown shut, knocking things down and swinging on the empty swings. I still love the memory of George.

    I on the other hand convinced my nieces that I don’t have a belly button and someday they will grow a tail. Now I hear, “Mommy told us that you tell a lot of fibs.”

    I always vote yes on imagination!

  13. megan on March 1st, 2011 8:35 am

    I think this is completely awesome. Anything that sparks and encourages imagination is fine by me!! Besides, I think these are the things that kids remember as they grow older, and fondly reflect on when thinking about their parents. I certainly remember all the cool stories and stuff my dad used to do for me, and cherish it to this day.

  14. Judy on March 1st, 2011 8:57 am

    I grew up with little fairies that came in the night to visit and I sewed clothes for them (on the sewing machine!!!!!) and made furniture for them and they wrote me letters and once in awhile would leave me a gift, like a new barrette for my hair or a piece of bubble gum. I don’t think it’s wrong at all. Let me cause a huge ruckus by saying that I don’t see a lot of difference between Santa and Tooth Fairy and Allie Alligator and organized religion. A little mysticism never hurt anyone, and it adds fun.

  15. tonya on March 1st, 2011 9:03 am

    and here’s where I admit what an a-hole I am to my kid in the name of a good joke. On Sunday I convinced the 4 year old that she ate poop (it was brownie batter).

  16. Barb on March 1st, 2011 10:43 am

    No…that was perfect!!! My mom used to tell me and my sister that elephants lived in our kitchen and left footprints in the peanut butter jar…we lived between Dallas and Fort Worth…you would have thought I would question that…but no…have fun…we did!

  17. kim on March 1st, 2011 11:22 am


    I agree with you! I intend never to lie to any children I might have, about anything, including Santa etc.

    I do not think it is “wrong” to encourage a belief in Santa or tiny alligators, but it is not what I would do myself.

    I remember not fully believing my parents about Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc., but I kept asking them over and over, and they kept telling me that they were real. I thought that FOR SURE my parents wouldn’t keep lying to me, would they? But oh yes, they did.

    And when the truth came out, eventually, I was upset. I felt cheated, but not because the Easter Bunny did not exist but because my parents had LIED to me. To my face! Repeatedly! Honestly, it made everything else they told me suspect. I remember feeling disappointed in them and wondering what else hadn’t been true about things they had told me.

    I think children deserve our respect and part of that includes our honesty. I wish my parents had told me the truth about Santa Clause when I asked them, instead of perpetuating a ridiculous charade that made them seem unreliable and untrustworthy for deceiving me for so long.

    That being said, I fully support the rights of others to tell their own children what they want to tell them, about Santa Clause, or tiny alligators, or death, or how babies are born, or whatever. But I will tell my own kids the truth, always, in all cases.

  18. kim on March 1st, 2011 11:28 am

    I should add that I had a rich fantasy life even without my parents’ intervention: I read fantasy books all the time and was totally convinced that if I kept looking, someday I would see a fairy. Or a unicorn. Or walk into a wardrobe and end up in Narnia. I believed in those things with every fiber of my being. And although by now I have recognized I probably won’t be making it to Narnia or go riding a unicorn any time soon, I still hold out hope for catching a glimpse of a fairy. You don’t need to believe in Santa to have the ability to imagine and fantasize about mystical things.

  19. Jenny on March 1st, 2011 11:40 am

    Wrong? No. Awesome? Yes!

  20. Sara on March 1st, 2011 11:42 am

    Linda – I think this is wonderful! Gives him a wonderful memory!

    Susie & Kim – interesting perspective! I remember when I was told that Santa wasn’t real and I felt like I was being let into a wonderful secret of grown up life – like I was a member of a club and I was charged with not ruining it for my younger siblings. And the magic of the tooth fairy and Santa was so much fun. I never suspected them as liars. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, though.

  21. Nicole on March 1st, 2011 12:01 pm

    That is just AWESOME! My Riley has a “Baby Monster” who lives in the HVAC duct above his changing table… he watches Riley with one yellow eye peering out from the ceiling vent. “He’s not scary Mommy, he’s a good guy, like Woody and Buzz. And he’s a cute little baby monster!” I think tonight the baby monster might leave Riley a note…

  22. Anne on March 1st, 2011 12:07 pm

    They call the preschool years “The Magic Years” for a reason! I think Allie is a great idea.

    To respond to Susie and Kim (and others who may be pondering what path to take), here’s a possible compromise: you could tell your kids that Santa et al. are real, but if your kids really start becoming suspicious, tell them the truth. For Kim, at least, it sounds like the main issue was the fact that her parents continued to perpetuate the story after she had clearly grown wise to it.

    Just my two cents!

  23. ckilgore on March 1st, 2011 12:29 pm

    I once spent WAY to much time making zombie repellent powder and zombie killing spray in much this same spirit –

    It’s all good

  24. Cara on March 1st, 2011 1:48 pm

    Fostering imagination in your kid? Shame on you. (Seriously, I am clearly the wrong person to have an opinion on this. I honestly do not get the fuss over such things. I will totally teach my daughter about Santa and his friends, and I have faith it won’t scar her for life.)

  25. lisa-marie on March 1st, 2011 2:59 pm

    That’s not wrong, it’s awesome and adorable on every possible level! Will you be publishing picture books on the Adventures of Allie the Alligator soon?!? Because that would totally rock!

  26. thejunebug on March 1st, 2011 4:08 pm

    Is it any more wrong than telling him about Santa Claus? :) Absolutely not – so have fun! Yay for Allie the Alligator!

  27. GJ on March 1st, 2011 5:23 pm

    Wait…are you saying the tiny alligator in the cup holder isn’t real?!?

  28. Danell on March 1st, 2011 6:27 pm

    Santa and the Easter Bunny are some of my favorite memories growing up. I’ve never felt anything but love and gratitude for my parents for all the work they did in fostering those lies. I intend to do the same for my kids because it makes me very, very sad to think of them missing out on those memories. So, you know, to each his own.

  29. Aviva ( on March 1st, 2011 6:27 pm

    I sometimes suspect kids are hip to our charades and buy into them because it’s so much fun to imagine and pretend. If I had attempted to put this one over on my (four-year-old) son, he would have said, “You’re joking. Right, Mommy?” and after several attempts to convince him I wasn’t, I would have admitted that yes, I was, and then the two of us would probably continue on as though it were true. He seems to want to be in on the imagining (although he most definitely believes in Santa and I sincerely hope he won’t have Kim’s reaction when he finds out it’s a fantasy).

  30. gillian on March 1st, 2011 7:11 pm

    awesome. one of my most favorite memories from preschool is our teacher telling us we were going to grow a lollipop tree. we planted lollipop sticks one afternoon, and the next morning as we drove up, they had planted a young tree and taped lollipops to the branches. i still remember that exact moment of complete and utter awe. we had grown lollipops.

    keep it up.

  31. Kami on March 1st, 2011 7:12 pm

    Totally love it!

  32. Angela on March 1st, 2011 9:58 pm

    Heck no. That’s sweet. Children should have some wonder.

  33. lisa on March 1st, 2011 11:01 pm

    Only if it’s wrong to be AWESOME!

  34. akeeyu on March 2nd, 2011 1:12 am

    I hope not, because I just totally bullshitted Milbarge about polar bears.

    She’s been having nightmares about being chased by polar bears with big pointy teeth and finally I said “Well, polar bears don’t eat little girls, they only eat fish. The only reason they’d be chasing little girls is to give you a big hug. Polar bears like to HUG little girls. They don’t bite them.”

    Then I Googled “polar bear hug” and showed her two polar bears hugging and said “See? Polar bears are really good huggers.” She seemed pretty satisfied with that.

    About that time, Sam started clearing his throat and finally hissed “Do we really want to teach her that polar bears hug little girls?”

    I said “Sam, if we ever get to a point where our children are unsupervised around polar bears, we have bigger problems that this bullshit story.”

  35. Christine on March 2nd, 2011 7:21 am

    I think it’s great. My in laws have already ruined my nephew for this stuff. Seriously, we’re in Disney and I’m asking if he’s excited to meet the mouse, and he’s like, “it’s just a guy in a costume.” Which yes, yes it is, but holy crap, kid, you’re bumming me out.

  36. Christine on March 2nd, 2011 7:21 am

    OH he’s the same age as Riley for what it’s worth – I think a few weeks older.

  37. Steph on March 2nd, 2011 8:44 am

    Nope… I think it’s all kinds of awesome!

  38. Jessi on March 2nd, 2011 9:12 am

    Love it!

  39. pilot_e on March 2nd, 2011 12:33 pm

    @akeeyu, I just about fell off my chair reading your story. Hysterical!
    @Linda, we’ve done it. Brilliant!

    On the occasion where my 3-year old wises up to a story and has asked “Did the cat REALLY say that?” I’ve answered “Well i’m not sure, but let’s pretend he did. So NOW what happens?” Imagination is just like everything else in life… if you don’t use it, you lose it.

  40. Very Bloggy Beth on March 2nd, 2011 1:01 pm

    So great. You are a good mom. Pish posh to any naysayers. You are not only fostering creative imaginative play, but someday in many, many years, he will look back on this and realize just how much his mama loved him.

  41. JAB on March 2nd, 2011 6:01 pm

    That was great!

  42. ElizabethZ on March 3rd, 2011 12:55 am

    Deep down, Riley probably knows there is no teeny tiny alligator in the cup holder. He wants to have fun with you. It’s what kids do, they pretend, they believe, they explore. Nothing wrong with what you did at all – I agree with a few who have said it’s like playing a game. Lying? Really? No.

    My dad had a little game like this when I was little. My parents divorced when I was very young and I would spend weekends with him. He had this little set of indian nesting baskets with lids. Long story short, Mr. Magic would come in the night and leave little trinkets in the innermost basket – candy, a balloon, etc. It was so much fun! I don’t ever think he was a liar because he pretended Mr. Magic came and left me gifts.

    I do agree that if a kid repeatedly asks if something like this is true or not and you keep saying, no, it’s true, it’s true – that might cause a problem later – but I never asked if Mr. Magic was real, I just believed he was. Because I wanted to and it was fun. Maybe deep down I knew he wasn’t and so I didn’t ask. My mom told me Santa wasn’t real the first time I asked the question when I was 7.

    Kids need to be kids as long as they can, especially now when everyone seems to want them to grow up so dang fast. Believing in magical things is a big part of the fun of being a child.

  43. Cathy on March 3rd, 2011 9:02 am

    Susie and Kim (and Linda): just wanted to add that I think this is a really kid-specific thing, and parents can probably tell what their particular kid wants or needs. Riley seems delighted, so yay! My own three-year-old daughter is a fanatical make-believer but is also incredibly EARNEST in a way that I think I was as a kid, too: she loves the stories, but it’s really important to her to know that they’re just stories — otherwise, she gets anxious. So we read Santa stories and leave out cookies for him, but when she checks in with me whether this is real or just pretend, I always reassure her that it’s just pretend — I’m instinctively sure that trying to convince her it was real would actually make it much harder for her enjoy playing along. This can occasionally make me feel like we’re a bit of a buzz-kill: we went to a performance of Peter Pan this weekend and, predictably, when Peter asked the audience of kids if they believed in fairies, she gave an audible “No!” (She was still willing to clap to revive Tink — she’s not a total curmudgeon.)

    All of this is largely to say that this is another one of those issues on which it’s ridiculous to take an abstract, universalized stand: I 100% believe parents who say that Santa/the Easter Bunny/the Tooth Fairy are magically wonderful parts of their kids’ childhood, but I also know for sure, on a gut level, that insisting wholeheartedly on them with my daughter would upset and confuse her. As with so many things, you follow your kid’s lead, and Linda seems to have done that beautifully.

  44. kristi on March 3rd, 2011 12:47 pm

    That’s awful. You suck.

  45. kristi on March 3rd, 2011 12:47 pm

    KIDDING. How fun!

  46. Matthew on March 3rd, 2011 8:49 pm

    I’d have to agree with Susie on this one. There is no issue with fostering imagination in a child, I find the real world full of wonderment. As a child I found delight in the simplest of things like ant farms, polliwog eggs, and science. It’s a great big world people :)I refuse to lie to my children as a matter of trust. My daughter often turns to me with the questions she feels she may not get an honest answer to elsewhere. I like being her “rock”. I like being the one she knows will answer the hard questions. Has my child missed out because of a lack of fairies and elves? Most assuredly not. The world Itself sparks her imagination. The Santa thing also hit too close to home religiously. For our family “tis the reason for the season”. Instead of discussing how Santa snuck in the night before, we use the time to talk about what we are thankful for. My children know that the gifts they give and receive weren’t made for free and are received as a showing of our appreciation to them so they feel loved. It’s a declaration of love in our family. I don’t want my children to ever say, “dad is Jesus and God real?” “Well of course” “but you said that about Santa, the toothfairy, and the easter bunny”. “well, this I really mean”.

    Chances are pretty good that the conversation may not happen, but as a child it was the question I asked my folks.

    If you feel the need to make things up for your children, ask yourself why. Is this world too mundane for you? Is there no wonderment in nature? I choose to live the complex life as uncomplicated as possible.

  47. parkingathome on March 5th, 2011 3:00 pm

    I just started to cry!

  48. Rachael on March 13th, 2011 6:00 pm

    Not wrong at all.

    My step son (6) believes I worked for Santa as an elf until I meet his father 5 years ago and asked Santa if I could leave to be with him.

    I even found a kids Santas Workshop t-shirt which I have “handed down” for him to wear.

    Whenever we see pictures of Santa and his elves he asks me if I was working in the “adults factory” on that day, since I’m not in the picture.

    The ‘lie’ has got a little out of hand, in the way it does when kids ask more questions which leads to more made up answers but it’s a lovely little ‘lie’ for our family and we enjoy the fantasy of it.

  49. RB on March 14th, 2011 12:01 pm

    OMG, not wrong. NOT WRONG! This is right up there with the ‘lie’ of Santa.

    This is one of the sweetest things ever…

  50. Jem on March 17th, 2011 7:36 pm

    I think that’s so sweet. Growing up, I had a friend bunny rabbit who I could only talk to while tuning into a certain station on my parents’ waterbed (built in headboard radio, pink waterbed, 80s as). My Mum would go into my room and talk over the baby monitor so I could hear it in my parents room and I’d talk to the bunny that way :D

    I remember being unsure if Santa was real and I asked Mum…I was concerned I’d be an adult and not know if he was real or not! So Mum promised to tell me if I reached 40 and still didn’t know. Hahaha!

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