Honesty and the Price of a Fish

Three fish darted frantically around the plastic bag squatting on the counter. The cashier punched in two codes, and then announced a total.

“You forgot a fish,” my son said, looking up at the woman. “There are three fish in the bag and you only rang up two.”

He was right. She had missed a $6 fish that he would be paying for with his own money. She rang it up, he paid, and we left.

“That was a nice thing you did in there,” my husband said. “Not many people would have pointed that out.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether I would have pointed it out. I hadn’t even noticed the cashier had missed a fish. Maybe I would have figured it evens out with all the fish that die within a week and we never bring back.

Not a fish in my son's tank but one he'd like.

Not from my son’s tank but a fish we had to stare at for a long time.

My son is a fairly honest boy. He’s never been a good liar. Oh, he’s tried. But I can look at him and he caves. His guilty conscience gets him. Faulty cashiers aside, I have the guilty conscience of a hundred nuns. When I know I did something bad, my guilt eats away at me like a fleet of gnawing rats. I punish myself worse than anyone else ever could. I see this trait in my son. While I grew into it, he seems plagued by it now.

He follows rules. He gets antsy when he notices from the backseat that I’m going five miles over the speed limit. When left with his grandparents for an evening, he’ll remind his sister that they can’t have ice cream again because they already had some that day.

That is a trait he did not get from me. Sure, as a kid I knew what it meant to be reliable and I was scared to not follow rules, but I would have easily forgotten a little thing like extra ice cream. I would do anything to get something sweet. I stole a box of brown sugar from the kitchen and hid it in my room to eat whenever I wanted.

I learned the hard way that lies lead to more lies and that you get caught. I stole my parents’ checkbook and hid it in my doll cradle for some authentic play. I didn’t even fess up when I knew they were looking for it. Finally, I returned it when they closed the account.

I didn’t fear dishonesty the way my son does. My daughter seems to be experimenting with dishonesty right now, testing boundaries with little white lies. Her lies often grow out of competition, not wanting to be left behind. When we heard an owl in the middle of the night, she heard it too. She even saw it from her window. In the dark. Three different nights.

Sometimes being the youngest is hard. I remember. When her older brother describes a movie that’s too old for her, my daughter insists she’s seen it too. We all know she is lying.

“Who’s the main character then?” my son quizzes.

“I can’t remember his name.” Hmm, it is a boy.

“What does he look like?”

“Uh, brown hair.”

“Wrong! He has dark hair!”

“That’s what I said!”

The interrogation continues and so does my daughter’s stubborn will.

But when I least expect it, she shows that guilty conscience too. And honesty. After a normal afternoon, she’ll burst into tears and admit she got reprimanded hours earlier at school.

At some point, I know my son will tell me lies. And at some point, I know my daughter will stop. Honestly, it’s what kids do. One day I may even look out my daughter’s window in the middle of the night and see that owl.

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18 Comments

Filed under Everyday Life

18 responses to “Honesty and the Price of a Fish

  1. I love how honesty spills out of kids. For them, lying is work. Recently, I was purchasing flowers(which probably like the fish would die quickly) and the cashier forgot the potting soil. When I reminded her, she gushed about how I made her day. I’m not good for goodness sake, I do believe in the karma of doing the right thing and that’s what pushed me into honesty. Kudos to your son!

  2. May

    I lied to my parents a lot, mostly about food (I have never had a healthy relationship with food, I have only just stopped lying to myself over it!) but I was not very good at it, and I felt horribly guilty over lying about anything else. Once I was very taken by some tiny glass Christmas trees which were decorating the shelves of a garden centre. I pocketed one, and then was overcome with guilt a few minutes later and showed it to my mum. She made me take it back and I apologised. At Christmas itself, there was a small box under the tree: a whole packet of the glass trees. It was a private message from her to me, of approval and perhaps a little reminder of the value of honesty. I’m glad to have been reminded of that experience.

  3. I don’t know if I would’ve said it to the cashier either about the fish! 😉 but then I know I would have said something to her too! 🙂 Your son is like one of my brothers, he couldn’t lie to my parents. I would always lie to them about small things and then felt bad about it, then felt guilty about it, then I would cry about it and tell my parents about it. We are bad liars because we knew my dad knew, he would stare at us (I would cry again) oh! 🙂

    • Yeah, I know that look you’re talking about.

      He’s a funny kid. Even in kindergarten when I thought he was coming home and telling me tall tales–about bugs escaping their habitat in the classroom and getting all over the school–he was telling the truth. I didn’t realize it until a year later. It’s tough though because I always take his word but I also know he’s human, he could still lie. 😉 And it’s hard not to laugh at the tales my daughter weaves. I think her imagination will lead her far one day, just hopefully not in a heap of trouble!

  4. my middle son is like your daughter – the owl would have visited him in his bed and slept with him. seriously. i wonder sometimes whether to call him on it or let it be. he holds on to the lies with such a vengeance so it’s not worth torturing him. i’m glad to hear it’s not just him.

    • I know. I should be careful. I’ve thought my son was lying before with his dramatic stories only to find out they were true. Watch, I’ll see that damn owl perched on her windowsill one night eating out of her hand.

  5. Love the honesty!! So sweet. This just reminded me of last weeks Modern Family finale. Not sure if you watch, but the grandmother left the granddaughter a letter saying she is very much like her. Doesn’t break the rules and is very honest, then she tells her the story of one time that she DID break a rule and that out come. The premise…”So my Alex, whom I love so dearly, who is probably too much like me for her own good, every once in awhile don’t be afraid to break the rules. You never know what can happen.”

    • Yes, I did see that and that sounds an awful lot like him. But we haven’t hit the teenage years yet so I won’t get too excited. 😉 Truth be told I think I have one who is much like his father and one who is much like her mother. Ahem.

  6. aw how sweet! I have a feeling he might become a lawyer…? (Loves rules, great at interrogation!)

  7. Truthfulness and Honesty are hard things to teach. One is a behavior while the other is a character trait. It it good your son is a honest person it will help guide him into making good choices for the rest of his life. I celebrate that trait in him with you. He may be hard on himself and others but he will eventually with age, life and maturity will learn to live and let live. I had to do the same and have a daughter who struggles with a sort of “righteous indigence” who I’m having to teach to chill a bit when it comes to judging other’s right and wrong. Anyway, I loved reading this entry. Thx for sharing

    • Thanks, Dawn. It’s such a surprise to be a parent and watch your kids’ personalities evolve. Sometimes you flinch, sometimes you beam. Even good surprises can be followed by miserable ones. 😉

      Looking forward to reading about your summer adventures.

  8. I am very honest. But I honestly don’t know if it’s because of my morals or my fear of being caught. I think it’s probably the latter.

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