Kids, Lies and Publicists

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Mothering and corporate soldiering are often at odds. One is about process, guiding that slippery thing called growth. The other is about product, doing task A so that product B can be sold to consumer C. Each also requires wildly different outfits. And generally at work — at my work, anyway — you come much less in contact with human waste. Or those plastic scissors that can't cut skin. But there are other times when the two jobs seem exactly the same.

My son, who for the purposes of this column we call Rover, has hit that stage where he's testing the boundaries of truth. Having snatched a toy away from his younger sibling while I have my back turned, he'll deny ever doing it, or claim preposterously, "she was finished with it." It's useless to point out to him that what he's saying is easily disproved. His bereft sister is wailing beside him. He simply refuses to back down from the lie.

Another iteration of this is the "trick." It amuses my son more than seems reasonable to warn me of horrible things that are happening to me. "Mommy, there's a big shark on your butt," is a common variation. "Your hair is on fire," is another. I am almost entirely to blame for these implausibilities since I can't help reacting with a generous serving of ham, twisting wildly to see my rear end or banging my head to put out the conflagration. My son gets to say, "Tricked you!" He's happy, I'm happy; we continue driving, until he says the exact same thing one minute later. Before long my reaction grows muted and shortly after that I'm begging him for mercy's sake to stop that nonsense. (Oh and I was joking about driving. We're usually in church.)

After a morning of these antics recently I came to work, dutifully shoving off such childishness, and took a phone call from the assistant of a publicist at BWR. Publicists are nearly always cheerful and helpful souls. Some of them, particularly those who represent multimillion-dollar corporations are very smart and incredibly scrupulous. Those who represent famous people, however, sometimes let the team down. BWR represents a lot of famous people.

I had recently requested something from one such famous person. Famous in the Oscar-nominated sense of the word. As is customary with such requests, I put it in writing and faxed the letter through to the famous person's agent, who then passed it on to the publicist, who passed it on to the famous person, who usually takes a pass and the publicist passes that pass on to me. (I may have the actual order of the Chinese whispers back to front here, but you get the picture.) I submitted to this process even though I saw said famous person almost every other day and could much more easily ask the individual myself. I thought this was the decent thing to do, not cut the publicist out of the equation. The assistant at BWR, who was very sweet, was calling me back to tell me that the famous person would not be able to help me out. This is not unusual. But just to make sure my acquaintance had turned me down, I asked, ?But F.P. saw the fax, right?" The publicist's assistant assured me it had been seen.

You know the rest. The next day I saw the famous person. I asked about the fax. My acquaintance had no knowledge of it and was sort of interested in my proposal. The feeling was familiar. The publicist's lie was so breathtakingly primitive and easily disproved. And since I had pointedly said that I would see the famous person soon at such-and-such a place in my fax, it was even more easily exposed than the untruths my son so clumsily perpetrates.

When Rover lies, I try to explain gently what is wrong with falsehood. The Boy who cried Wolf is invoked. It's difficult to know how to respond to grown women lying. When I asked my colleagues about it they shook their heads at me sadly: ?A publicist lied? One for the ages!" But it wasn't the lying that got me. I lie. Recent news reports suggest much better writers than me have lied. Oh yeah, and presidents lie. It was the sheer stupidity of the lie. It was worse than my son saying he has already brushed his teeth while I hold his bone-dry toothbrush in my hand.

So I've decided maybe just to regard it as tricking. Next time a publicist tells me something that seems implausible I'll just ham it up, twisting around and banging my head. Maybe then they'll stop all the nonsense.