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Smell the Coffee: The lies that bind

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A few years back, while on a tour of the desert, the guide was telling our group about the different types of cactus, when one of the men on our tour -- a middle-aged newspaper columnist -- asked, "How long would I have to stand here before this cactus started leaning toward me?"

"I'm not sure what you mean," said our guide.

"I heard if you stand next to a cactus, it'll sense there's a source of liquid and start leaning that direction."

"Where did you hear that?" our guide asked.

"My brother," said the man.

"Oh," said our guide. "That explains it. My brother told me if I swallowed a watermelon seed, it would grow in my belly. He'd point to pregnant women and tell me that was why they looked like that."

I could relate. One year, at the beach, I touched a baby shark someone had on the pier.

"Great," my brother said. "Now you have baby shark scent on you. If you go in the water, the mama will smell you and come after you."

When I said I'd just wash it off, he shook his head like it was hard for him to fathom such stupidity.

"You can't wash it off. Sharks are waterproof. So is their scent."

A couple days later, when I still wouldn't get in the water, he tried to convince me I could cover the scent by rubbing raw hamburger all over myself. I'm pretty sure my brother hated me.

These kinds of lies are a rite of passage for siblings, but since my daughter is an only child, the responsibility for telling convincing whoppers has fallen to me.

I believe I've managed fairly well.

I once told Celeste that if she swallowed her bubble gum, she'd fart bubbles. This did not deter my child in the least. Instead, she began swallowing gum on purpose. And started wearing dresses, just in case.

After she lost her first baby tooth, I got all excited and told her I couldn't wait until she started losing her baby fingers and toes.

One of my favorites took place when Celeste and her friend Jordan were 7 and 8. Early one morning, the two found a birdcage in the basement and decided to try hatching a raw egg from our refrigerator. Most moms would've explained the futility of their attempt. I just said, "You need to keep that warm if you want it to hatch, and turn it every 15 minutes or so."

They took turns holding and turning the egg for the next few hours and then put it under a lamp, returning to flip it every now and then. By afternoon, it was mostly forgotten. That's when I removed the egg from the cage, emptied the contents down the sink, and then arranged the empty shell amid the shredded newspaper on the floor of the cage. I added a few feathers taken from the brim of a hat, and then left the cage door hanging open

An hour or so later, the commotion began. The egg had hatched! The chick had escaped! It was loose in the house!

Celeste and Jordan raced wildly from room to room, searching for their bird, while I sat there wishing I'd saved a few feathers to give to the cat.

They finally came to me for help. While Celeste was explaining what had happened, something in my expression gave me away. She smiled. Shook her head. Turned to Jordan and said, "There's no chick. We've been had."

Another time, a few years later, Celeste was complaining about being the shortest in her class.

"Actually," I said, "You're not short at all. If you were in the class you're supposed to be in, you'd be one of the tallest."

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

I paused, pretending to be thinking it over, and then let out a sigh.

"This probably isn't the best way to tell you, but you're actually 8, not 10. It's just that you were so smart and tested so well that I decided to put you in early."

My ex gamely jumped in. "Since it's illegal to do that, your mom had to make you believe you were older."

He turned to me and said in a low, scolding voice (one she could hear), and "I can't believe you just blurted that out! This isn't how we agreed to tell her."

She listened as we mock-fought about hiding her age, but after a bit, she began clapping. Slowly and sarcastically.

"I hope you're saving up for all the therapy I'm going to need someday," she said.

I miss the days when I could pull the wool over her eyes. She's almost 16 now, and these days she messes with my mind far better and more often than I do with hers.

But I still try.

Not long ago, I tried convincing her there were once prehistoric earthworms as large as dinosaurs and they were responsible for all the caves in the world.

I wish I'd thought of that one a few years ago, when she had a little gullible left.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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