It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Honesty is the best Policy

In fact, I have an ambivalent response to that quote. I’m not a believer in the inviolable sanctity of honesty in the pantheon of virtues. Too often honesty is nothing more noble than cruelty, dishonestly masquerading as a virtue.

But that’s the stuff of another, more philosophical post.

This one is from quite a few years back. Twelve or thirteen, I figure. Among the children in my care at the time were two small boys, whom we’ll call Riley and Paul. I’d been caring for Riley (then about 20 – 24 months) for a shortish while, a couple of months or so, when Paul (9-ish months) entered my care. Riley and Paul’s mothers were good friends, and I gather all Riley’s mom’s ravings about the wonderfulness of Mary encouraged Paul’s mother to leave her son with me.

All was going well. Riley, though a lively, accident-prone little punkinhead, was the cheeriest little dude. In fact, he was that one-in-a-thousand child who enters daycare cheerfully, and just stays that way. There was no separation anxiety, there were no tears at the door, there was no hesitation. Riley just trotted through the door, made himself instantly at home, and dismissed his loving parents with a happy wave. Insouciance itself, our Riley.

Paul was a little more standard. He was troubled when maman and papa left, but he was consolable. And it did help that his buddy Riley was there. Nice to have a familiar face close to hand in an unfamiliar environment. Despite the age difference, they did play together. Riley was cheerfully interested in ‘baby Paul’s’ doings, happy to help him with stuff, eager to play. It was very cute.

Which was why I didn’t hesitate to go into the kitchen for a minute or two, leaving Riley and Paul together in the living room. The living room and the kitchen in that house (I’ve since moved) both adjoined the dining room, each room connected to the other with an archway. There were no closed doors between us, and it was a matter of two steps to my right and a peek around the doorframe, and I could see the entire living room.

Seems safe, doesn’t it?

You’d say that if you didn’t know Riley. This was accident-prone, shitpalooza Riley, the boy to whom bizarre things happened, and through whom bizarre things happened. It always seemed like a good idea at the time. Riley did not (nor does he to this day) have a malicious bone in his body. He was cheerful — I keep using that word, because it just fits. Cheerful, eager, willing, energetic, friendly… and a disaster waiting to happen.

I love that boy. 🙂

Anyway. I’m in the kitchen, just for a minute, and Paul and Riley are in the living room a few feet away. And from the living room, I suddenly hear a rhythmic thudding. “Bump, bump, bump.” I don’t know what it is, but I don’t hear any cries of pain or alarm. Nonetheless, this is Riley. I’d learned, even at that early date, to check into anything out of standard when Riley was within three metres a mile or two.

I pop my head around the corner, and there is Riley, squatting on the floor in the way of toddlers. Squatting on the floor and bouncing up and down. “Thud, thud, thud.” That noise is not his diapered butt hitting the hardwood. No. Would that it were.

That noise was Paul’s forehead. Paul’s head, which Riley is straddling as he squats. And with each bounce of Riley’s padded butt, Paul’s wee forehead is knocked into the floor.


The telling of this story takes faaaaar long than the actuality. Paul’s head probably got no more than two or three bounces before I’d swooped in with a cry of alarm and tossed Riley to one side lifted Riley off.

The damage was (hallelujah) not severe, but Paul was definitely going to have a bruise at home-time.

How to explain this one?

This is one occasion where I was seriously, severely, sorely tempted to lie. In that home, I had arranged the baby gate on the third step up, so that small children could practice going up and down three stairs. It would be an easy thing to say that Paul had crawled up three stairs and tumbled down. A tumble of three stairs is a minor thing. Having your head bashed into the hardwood floor by your bouncing buddy because your lame, inattentive caregiver was in the next room?


Never mind that I regularly walk from room to room. Never mind that they were out of sight for perhaps a minute, and never out of hearing. Never mind that parents let their children play together in the basement playroom while watching television in the living room upstairs all the time.

This just sounded sooooooooo bad.

I even practiced my Lie, so I could say it with a straight face. I rehearsed it in my mind so it would sound believable. I’m telling you, I was seriously tempted.

But in the end, I couldn’t do it. I ‘fessed up. Told the truth. And waited … for the shrieks of horror, for his super-nice mother to grab her bruised baby and storm off, never to be seen again. If I was lucky, I’d avoid a law suit. I hoped.

Because you just don’t know, do you?


His mother looked at her baby, eyed up the bruise. She snuggled him close, kissed his poor wee forehead.


“Oh, thank goodness!” she said. “I was afraid you were going to tell me he’d fallen down the stairs. I am so paranoid about stairs!!!”


Holy Hannah. In opting not to fudge the facts lie to dodge a potential bullet… I dodged a bullet. A real one. Honesty really is the best policy! Who knew? Wow.

The next day, I hear from Riley’s mother that the two women had chatted about it that evening. Riley’s mother was cheerfully (Riley comes by that trait honestly) apologetic.

“I warned her that she’d be taking a chance, leaving her poor baby in the same house as Riley. I did truly warn her!”

Paul’s mother concurred. “Yes, she did. ‘You never know, with Riley’, she told me.”

We all shared a fond laugh at the mayhem that is Riley. Because — who knew??? — it is far better to be bounced on the head by your friend than tumble down two or three steps. Far better.

But I will tell you this: from that moment on, Riley never, not once, not ever, left my sight. Well, except when he was sleeping… and we know where that led. (cf, ‘shitpalooza’, above)

Riley and his mother came to my birthday party last winter. They’re still two of my favourite people. Paul’s parents live a few blocks away, and we always take a few minutes to chat whenever we meet. Sometimes Paul, now a rapidly-sprouting-up young man, is with his parents. Hale and healthy, and always with his shy smile.

All’s well that ends well.


August 2, 2011 - Posted by | health and safety, quirks and quirkiness | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. OK, no one else is biting. I was very tempted to lie once when my niece tumbled off the slide. She got a bruise on her forehead. Falls happen – and I’m a big believer in kids learning how to avoid injury on their own – but I felt terrible about it because she had been climbing up the slide all morning despite my repeated attempts to keep her down and safe. I turned my back for one minute and thump! up she went and off she fell.

    In the end I told the truth. Her parents weren’t very happy because they don’t like to let her test her own limits, but less than a week later she fell off the couch while at home and they saw first-hand just how a) quick; b) stubborn; and c) resilient she is. So I was vindicated, eventually.

    I hesitated a long while before posting this. I’m sticking my neck out a bit, and there are bound to be people reading this who are condemning me for allowing this to happen. If it shocked me, it’ll shock other people. Children have gotten the usual number of bumps and bruises while in my care, and, like you, I’m a believer in letting kids test their limits, but this one is just so bizarre. Though I don’t think I could have foreseen Riley’s odd choice of game, it’s not such a stretch to know that I should have kept the baby with me. Lesson learned!

    Yes, I was glad I opted for the truth, as risky as it seemed at the time.

    I know a woman who was vindicated in a similar way to you. Her son was in a special program for special needs kids, a program he got into in the first place because his extreme accident-prone-ness had them take him to the doctor to be checked for some sort of perceptual problem. So he’s in this program, and the mother gets a note in the communication book, warning her that if there’s another injury in the next couple of weeks, Children’s Aid would be notified. The poor woman practically put her seven-year-old son in a playpen, so paranoid was she. Because this kid? All he did was fall down, trip, walk into walls, spill things…

    And then the weekend came, and as part of the great program he was in, he was taken to a staff member’s home for respite care, to give the parents a break.

    He came home from that day with a black eye. Seems that he’d run full-tilt into the latch of the back yard gate, see, and, well… His mum said, “I was never so happy to see him get hurt in my life.” When the staff person said, “It happened so quickly! I was just…”, mum was able to say, with a warm, magnanimous smile, “I KNOW! No matter HOW CAREFUL you are with him, this stuff just happens, doesn’t it???”

    The next note in the communication book included a letter on the school letterhead. “Further investigation has convinced us that there has been neither abuse nor neglect in this case.”


    Comment by hodgepodge | August 2, 2011 | Reply

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