I never intended to raise pranksters. When our son asked us what sound a giraffe makes, we honestly didn’t know. But being a stubborn 3-year-old, he refused to believe his parents didn’t know the answer so he just kept asking. Do they bray? Do they bark? Do they yodel? Eventually, we told him that they say “Hey, Steve!”
At the time, it was funny. Later on, when I caught him teaching his younger sister about giraffes, I can see that it may not have been the wisest parenting decision.
A few weeks later, my son decided to flip the definitions of "scrambled eggs" and "quesadilla." He didn’t bother to tell us. It took three weeks of mealtime tantrums to figure it out. I think that may have been what prompted me to convince the kids that badgers were mythical creatures that wear tiny trousers and only live in England, just like the Beatrix Potter books.
It’s been 12 years now and I don’t tell a lot of people about the giraffes or badgers anymore. I also don't often share how my husband once convinced our son that he was born with hooves. More than one person has openly questioned why I thought it was OK to lie to my child.
I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t lie to my kids. If they ask me to tell them the truth, I will. But they don’t often ask unless they’re really not sure. So, I continue to mess with them. And I do that because they deserve it. All of it. Every bit of nonsense I can throw at them.
- Because one time, my children decided that they wanted a sibling and that the best way to make this happen would be to convince random people that I was pregnant. Teachers, grocery checkers, my nephews… anyone who would listen. They did this for three years.
- Because for two years my son’s favorite hobby was to set Lego man booby traps around the kitchen so that whenever I opened a cupboard, one would fall, jump or otherwise shoot something at me.
- Because their favorite topic of conversation is "Mom is so old (How old is she?)." One time, when we were on a peaceful, quiet trip around the Olympic Peninsula, apropos of nothing, my 7-year-old daughter broke the silence with, “Mom, what was Burger King like when he was just a prince?”
- Because one evening last summer, they decided their dad and I "needed a break." They set up the table in the garden and brought us menus from which we ordered drinks and appetizers (cut-up carrots). We sat in the garden drinking our beers and having a nice time. After an hour, they brought us a bill for $25 and insisted we pay it (P.S. "MOM, TIP IS NOT INCLUDED").
- Because my son decided he wanted a "really cool scar" so he gave himself one, using a Magic Marker. Later that week I got a terse email from school asking me to please put an end to my son showing other kids how to make Magic Marker scars.
- Because our son lobbied for months for us to let him go to the bathroom in a restaurant by himself. He finally got his dad to agree. When the day came, he was very responsible! He went and came back to the table quickly and without fuss. It wasn’t until twenty minutes later that we all realized he’d come back from the bathroom dressed as a ninja.
- Because, lately, they’ve decided that they actually do have a sibling. Her name is Elizabeth and she’s 23 years old. They’ve never met her because apparently, after I gave birth to her I realized she was evil and kicked her out of the house. They keep asking me where her birth certificate is.
But in the end, I know that all the zingers about my age and the secret ninja costumes aren’t meant to be mean. They’re reminders of how much those kids love me. My son honestly thought I would appreciate that the Lego archers shoot directly into your eyeballs whenever you open the cupboard.
My kids have learned from us that a well-played prank isn’t generic. It is very specifically tailored to a person, time and place. So when I prank them, they know I’ve been focusing on them, sometimes for days. They love that attention. They love knowing that I’m making mischief for them.
And it sets up a challenge. When I told my kids that badgers are mythical creatures, they eventually teamed up against me, learning how to use a North American wildlife reference guide to prove me wrong. When I finally admitted defeat, they gloated for days.
I told them it was all a trick to get them to read a book but they just laughed and asked me what life was like before the invention of the wheel.