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Imagination vs. Fabrication

by The Next Family July 14, 2011

By: Shannon Ralph

I think I am raising a compulsive liar. Or perhaps simply a brilliant storyteller. I can’t decide. Lately, my oldest son, Lucas, has been telling me long, involved, outlandish stories and insisting that they are the truth. For example, yesterday he told me a story about sharks. My son explained with complete seriousness, that “waaaayy back in 1982” (an exact quote), people had not yet discovered sharks. One day a fisherman decided to cool off after a long day fishing in the ocean by taking a swim. As he was swimming, his foot was bitten off by a shark.  He looked down at his stump and noticed the teeth marks of a strange creature. He decided to scuba dive in the same place where his foot was bitten off, and discovered sharks. Lucas then went on to explain, as a last-minute thought, that this man’s name was John Fisherman. “Weird, huh? That his name was Fisherman and we was a fisherman?” he said with complete earnestness. Despite my obvious skepticism, he swore it was a true story and that he had learned about John Fisherman and his unfortunate run-in with a shark in school.

Okay. Call me insane, but I do not believe that Lucas really learned this story in school. Lately, his extraordinary stories have become more frequent, more detailed, and quite frankly, just plain weird. He has told me that he and his friends found an eagle egg on the playground at school. And that there was an eagle’s nest on top of his school building. He told me that a boy in his class was in the Olympics. What sport? Greco roman wrestling. Umm….yea…Lucas is eight. He told me that he studied the ancient Egyptians in school, which is perfectly rational and I believe him. However, he insisted that all of the Egyptians were all men (he fought me tooth and nail on this one, insisting that it was true despite my explanation of the biological impossibilities of his claim). He told me that an airplane landed in his school yard. He told me that he believes in ghosts because he’s talked to them (that one freaked me out a bit).

He insists with complete certainly that these stories are true. He looks me right in the eye and, with a completely straight face and angelic smile, vows that he is telling me the truth. So, here is my dilemma. Do I play along with his fictitious fables? Or do I call him on them and accuse him of being a fibber? A fabricator? A perjurer? I am wondering if his ability to weave an epic tale (lie) right to my face is a gift or a curse. Maybe I am getting a firsthand glimpse into the creative mind of a future award-winning playwright. Perhaps his hearty imagination will lead to a Nobel Prize in literature. Then again, his strange concoctions could be a precursor to a life of crime. A future as a con man. Or worse yet…a car salesman.

In the world my children inhabit where cell phones and iPads and computers and video games can negate the simple joys of childhood, I feel like I should honor Lucas’s fertile imagination. I should encourage whimsical play. Cultivate creativity and cleverness.  However, I wonder where imagination ends and fabrication begins? Or are they one and the same? How do you teach a child to tell the truth, but encourage creative imaginings at the same time? I don’t know.

Life was so much simpler before my children learned to talk.

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