Some parenting tips we learn while we are still children ourselves, like the time I thought my twin sister and I had hatched the perfect crime.
As a kid, my twin sister was scared of the water. By age eight, she had yet to dunk her head—in a pool, bathtub or otherwise. In her defense, we only went swimming a few times a year. Either we’d go as a guest to the local pool club, the one that our large family of nine couldn’t afford on our own, or we’d stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of splashing strangers at the onsite pool of a KOA campground.
Wherever and whenever we did go swimming, it was always the same: my dad would work with her for awhile, then get frustrated and leave for the deep end to swim with our older, braver brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, I never strayed from my sister’s side in the shallow end. I didn’t share her fear but we were twins, and twins stick together.
One day, I had finally had enough and decided to take matters into my own hands. It was the last day of vacation, presumably the last time we would swim before our ninth birthday, and I was tired of her complaining about disappointing our dad.
“You ready?” I asked forcefully. I tended to be the bossy twin.
She nodded eagerly at first, then timidly when she spotted our dad standing poolside several feet away. “He's not even watching.” I huffed. Still, I swapped places to block her from view and began dousing her hair, neck and shoulders with chlorinated water before she could change her mind. I splashed a little extra water in her face for good measure.
Then we climbed out of the pool and walked in our dad’s direction as fast as we could without running, hooting and hollered along the way. “Dad! Dad! Look! She went underwater! She went underwater!”
My twin sister stood next to me, mute, sporting a broad grin while water dripped down her nose but not her forehead.
Our dad evaluated the reality of our side-by-side comparison, then crouched down to look my twin straight in the eye. “You dunked your head, huh?” She nodded imperceptibly. “Your whole head?” he asked again in a soft voice.
Time stopped still as we waited for his next move, the move that neither of us saw coming. Cupping her tightly around the shoulders, he led her back to the shallow end of the pool to call her bluff. “Well, now that I'm watching, why don't you show me and do it again!”
I will never forget the look of utter and absolute terror in her eyes. I wore the same expression myself. What had we done? And how could we have been so stupid?
By the end of that afternoon, my dad lovingly helped her dunk her head underwater for the very first time, and more importantly, I learned the art of parenting from a pro. Because sometimes as a parent, I too have to dive in and call my children’s bluff in order to separate their intent from their behavior, their needs from their actions. Because behind every white lie is innocent wishful thinking, an intention worthy of notice, or a call for help. And like my dad, I want to be savvy enough to know the difference.