Virtue & Mischief: No granny fibbing

Krista and I went away for a couple of days this past weekend. We don’t do this very often, despite what our children might tell you.

From their perspective, apparently, we’re hardly ever around. From our perspective, we get away as a couple perhaps three days a year.

In any event, this strikes me as a win-win situation: Krista and I get to recharge our batteries a little, carry on a few uninterrupted conversations, take a brief break from the everyday worries and hassles that come with the responsibility of raising three high octane children in their teen and pre-teen years, see an adult movie or two, sleep as late as we want, and generally remind ourselves what life was like in 1999 or so.

The kids get to spend a few days with Grandma, and everyone knows what that means: No curfew, no demands that they make their beds or bring their plates to the kitchen, no hectoring about going outside, and no limitation on Maid-rites or milkshakes. As one anonymous amigo once put it, “Having Grandma stay with us is like heaven. Having you stay with us is…well, you know.”

Yes. I know.

For her part, Grandma seems unfazed by the 72 hours of hard time she provides us once or twice a year. Because I am something of a worry-wart, I tend to call after we’ve been gone for 24 hours or so to assess the situation on the home front. I want to make sure that my family is still alive, that no one’s been arrested, that the house is still standing, that grandma’s mental state is stable, that the amigos haven’t somehow accidentally manufactured a hole in the universe’s space-time continuum.

This past Sunday morning, after Krista and I had enjoyed perhaps the most idyllic day and a half of our married lives, Granny and I had our typical telephone exchange. This time she called me—a slightly worrisome development. “Hi Granny,” I began tentatively. “How’s it going? How are you? How are the kids? Are they behaving?”

“Oh, fine,” she replied.

I listened carefully for any quivering in her voice, any hesitation in her responses that might indicate what I refer to as “granny-fibbing,” that time-honored (and surely cross-cultural) phenomenon in which grandparents endure, out of the presence of the subject parents, obnoxious, inappropriate, and occasionally even the unacceptable behavior of their grandchildren and then fib about it later when directly confronted by said parents.

“Oh, fine” could be the truth. Perhaps the children were getting along reasonably well with each other. Maybe they were obedient and pleasant and well-mannered. On the other hand, I knew from experience and instinct that “Oh, fine” could mean “I want you two to have a pleasant, worry-free couple of days and therefore, despite the fact that your children are driving me stark-raving mad and I think you ought to seriously consider military school for all three or some subset thereof, I’m going to take one for the team and hedge the truth by using cryptic language like ‘Oh, fine.’”

I was in an outlet mall at the time, so I sauntered over to a semi-private spot in the Bass store and probed a bit further. “Fine? Tell me more. What have you guys been up to? How are the children treating you?” I was mentally prepared to interrogate my dear mother-in-law should I detect any verbal or nonverbal signs of prevarication. After all, this is the woman who once told me that “What happens with Grandma, stays with Grandma.”

“Oh, wonderful!” she replied. Grandma, for all her talents and virtues, is a terrible liar. I knew instantly that both the content and her tone of voice indicated that the kids were acquitting themselves well and that they were, indeed, treating her properly and getting along with each other.

“Luke’s basketball game went well, he really enjoyed it. He got to sleep in later than expected yesterday because the basketball camp was cancelled ‘cause of the icy weather, you know. Abby and Daniel have been playing games and reading, and we all went to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Memorial Hall last night. They seemed to really like it. They’re sleeping at the moment, but I thought I should check in since I just checked my phone and it looked like you called last night. I had it off since we were at the program. The weather’s been kind of nasty—lots of ice, like I said, and it’s really cold. But we’re doing fine. Are you having a good time?”

“Yes, we’re fine,” I responded, silently thanking God for grandparents the world over. I gave her a brief account of our activities, thanked her, told her how much we loved her, and signed off. I replaced my phone in my pocket and took a deep breath, ecstatic that Granny was still upright and possessing her sanity, and relieved that we might be able to hold off on military school a little while longer.

By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.