I was one of those pre-parents who told herself she'd never lie to her kids. How babies are made? Why those two men are kissing? What happened to the kitty lying at the side of the road? No problem. I would use correct terminology, would meet each query with age-appropriate tact and candor, and would impart knowledge of the wider world gently and lovingly.
(This doesn't apply to me saying "Murf -- want some carrots?" when asked by a three-year-old what's in my mouth, when it's actually a hastily bitten wad of Ghiradeli. That's VERY different.)
The other day, John was playing outside without a shirt. Without warning, he began screaming and ran inside.
"It's burning!" he cried. "OWWWW! Ohhh! It hurts, it hurts so bad! Ohhhh, do something, do something!"
"Come into the bathroom!" I cried, alarmed. I stood him in front of the light, waiting for a rash to come out, or a sting to turn red.
John ran in place and moaned. He was in some kind of pain but, distressingly, I couldn't figure out what was wrong. His back looked fine.
"Tell me about it," I said. "Where does it hurt? And what does it feel like?"
"It HURTS!" he said. "All over! And it itches! It itches, AND it burns! Oh, OW!"
"I'm sorry, man! I can't see what's wrong. Maybe I'll put some lotion on it."
That was deemed inappropriate. Then, Matt and I must have had the same thought at the same time. From in the living room, I heard him say meaningfully, "MAYBE Mom has something ELSE..." as I walked out there and said, more to him than John, "MAYBE I could use some MEDICATED lotion..."
I raised my eyebrows in the expression recognized by parents everywhere: I'm jiving our offspring. Are you with me?
He raised his eyebrows in the slightly different expression that means: Do it now, before the neighbors hear him screaming.
I pulled out some -- hee! -- 3M hand lotion, which I firmly believe was a test for a new industrial lubricant that went slightly wrong, and 3M just kind of shrugged and hit the little speed-dial button on its phone that says "U.S. Patent Department" for the 23rd time that day.
Anyway, the point is this lotion is pretty much packaged like an industrial lubricant, with a marked lack of anything soothing, moisturizing or protecting on its label. I pulled it out of the closet and said, "This is something that works on burning and itching; it should do just fine."
"OK, OK!" said John.
"It's called Placebo," said Matt.
"Yup!" I said. "Placebo is great. It works on a lot of things."
I smoothed some Placebo on. "Feel better?" I asked.
"Yeah!" said John, in much the same tones that the blind man must have used after Jesus gave him his sight back. "It does! It's not burning anymore."
"If that happens again, you let me know," I said. "Placebo is great for lots of things like that. I use Placebo a lot. It's good stuff to have around, especially with kids."