I’m usually a pretty honest person, partly because of morals and partly because I’m a terrible liar. But 23 years ago, when I became a parent, I discovered that parenthood ushered in a whole new era for me, one in which lying often made things easier for everyone, and lies were told to an audience so gullible they would believe things like, “We don’t have any ice cream” (we did); “McDonalds isn’t open” (it was), and my personal favourite, “The toys live here at the store; they can’t come home with us.” I had my kids convinced ToysRUs was basically a museum where you could go to gawk but never remove anything. That schtick only worked till they were about 4 or 5, but it was good while it lasted.
As kids get older, I had to treat them like other people — i.e., not lying to them. When kids are teens and young adults, for me, anyway, there’s basically only one parental lie you can get away with: “It’s going to be OK.”
You can get away with this lie because they kind of know it’s a lie too. I mean, they know you can’t actually guarantee things will be OK. Saying it is an expression of hope, but you say it like a promise, because as a parent, for so long your job was to make things OK.
This time last year, March 18, 2020, I was not sure everything would be all right. I had one child getting ready to drive home by herself from Nova Scotia after her university suddenly closed. I had another child, whose local college had also moved to online classes, living alone in a small apartment. I had an elderly dad, also living alone, who was at high risk for COVID. I knew that once Emma came home, Jason and I would quarantine with her, which we were prepared for, but it meant we couldn’t do anything to help my dad or Chris if any needs arose during those two weeks. Like everyone else, I had no concept of how long this might last or what the future might look like.
On March 20, I dropped by to visit my dad, and to visit Chris — dropping off some supplies, touching base before we went into quarantine, all the while checking my texts to see how Emma was doing on her drive home. At Chris’s place, I visited with him and his beautiful cats, grateful he would at least have them for company.
Chris was worried, like Emma was, like all the young adults were. What would this mean for their education, their social lives, their world? Beyond encouraging Chris to stay in his apartment as much as possible, I didn’t have many answers, but I repeated that familiar lie, “I’m sure everything will be OK. It won’t last too long.”
Chris said, “There’ll be a vaccine, right? I heard they’re already working on a vaccine. So there’ll probably be one before too long.”
That was the point at which I told my biggest lie of 2020. I said, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too. The scientists are on it, so there’ll be a vaccine before long.”
I knew it was a lie because I knew there’d never been a vaccine for a coronavirus before. I knew vaccines took years, not months, to be developed, to be tested, to be approved. I’d read up on it, even that early in the pandemic, and I knew that the rosiest estimates were that a COVID-19 vaccine, if it ever came, would likely be 3 or 4 years out. And nobody knew how either we or the virus would adapt until then.
I lied to my brilliant, beautiful, worried young adult son because I couldn’t shake that parental urge to tell my kids that it will be OK. Even in the face of the unprecedented, the uncertain. I knew whatever got us through this, it wouldn’t be a super-fast vaccine riding in to save the day.
Today, March 18, 2021, life has changed a lot. We’re wearing masks. Most of Emma’s and Chris’s 2020-2021 school years have been online learning, although they’ve both managed to have some in-person class. We’ve all spent more time in our homes than we expected we would. And today, March 18, 2021, I went with my dad to get his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
It was an absolutely, boldfaced, barefaced lie when I said a year ago that we’d have a vaccine before too long. A lie, or, if you will, a statement of hope. An audacious hope that appears to have actually come true. Our senior citizens have begun to get vaccinated. In a few months, most of the rest of us will have been. The pandemic is a long way from over, but the end is in sight. And a scientific miracle — a combination of work and genius and will and resources and cooperation such as we rarely see in this divided world — made it happen.
I’m glad I wasn’t lying after all.