How I Lie to Children

4 min
Image of Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
Have you ever been in a confined space with three to five small children? I have. I spend three hours each summer morning teaching kids how to sail. It’s fun, and I love it. But it’s also a special kind of hell.
Young children have a knack for not being quiet. It’s really a skill. It’s hard to continuously sing “Let It Go” for three hours straight. But they seem to manage. One time, I even Wikihowed “how to keep kids quiet.” Turns out there are “four ways to keep a large group of kids calm, quiet, and respectful (with pictures).” My favorite strategy offered was “the quiet spray,” a small spray bottle, the type you would use to punish cats, used to spray disruptive kids. If, however, you try a similar trick with, say, a Nerf water gun... it doesn’t quite work. In fact, the kids become not calm, not quiet, and not respectful very quickly.
So I had to come up with something else. Believe it or not, one day, I tried the quiet game with them. Yes, the same one your mom uses on long car rides. For some reason entirely unknown to me, it actually worked. There was pure, beautiful silence on that boat. The kids were sitting on either side trying so hard to suppress their laughter. They filled their faces with air and silently bounced up and down. They looked at each other throwing their arms in the air—silently of course—trying to get the others to laugh. But this was a competitive group.
It was incredible, the silence. Pure bliss. I could finally feel the slight kiss of the wind on my cheeks. I could finally hear the sounds of the waves lightly tapping the boat’s hull. I could finally smell the lake air. The sails softly luffed in the dying wind. The sun warmed the fresh waters. It was the perfect summer day out on the lake. That is, until one of them farted.
One small crack and that was it. The whole boat exploded in childish laughter. There was no more game. Everyone lost, but no one cared. So I tried again. I said, “Alright, good job, let’s have round two.” But the kids wouldn’t have it. They knew my trick. Kids are smarter than we think. So I was, once again, at a loss. And I was running out of time before any permanent damage to my ears was done.
Turns out, kids respond very positively to stories. Since we were sailing, I thought it only right to tell them a sailing story of mine.

“A few years ago, I went out sailing in a Laser, a one person boat. It was about an hour before sunset, which is the most beautiful time to sail. My plan was to sail out, see the sunset, and sail back in to help my coworkers put the equipment away for the night. When I got out there, though, fog began to settle. Really thick fog. Dangerously thick fog.”
At this point, I inserted a small interjection about how the kids should never sail in fog because it’s dangerous when you can’t see things.
I continued, “With the fog, I know it’s time to head in. But that’s the tricky thing with fog, isn’t it? Because I couldn’t find the beach. And the sun was about to set. This, by the way, is why I think my boss should tape compasses to every boat.
“I sailed around blindly for a little while until I had absolutely no idea where I was. Then, the sun set. Now I had absolutely no idea where I was in the dark. I couldn’t even see the lighthouse, whose sole purpose was to help people in this situation.
“I realized I was probably going to have to spend the night in the boat, hoping the fog would lift by morning. Don’t get me wrong, I was freaking out a little bit. I couldn’t see fifteen feet past the boat. I kept sailing aimlessly for a little while, hoping by some stroke of pure dumb luck I would magically end up at the beach.
“I didn’t find any beach, but I did come across something quite strange. I found a little trash island, just floating there. No more than a couple feet wide. There was some accumulation of plastic and cardboard littered across it. I remember very specifically these plastic six pack rings sticking out. You know, the stuff that strangles turtles and seagulls. There was a little sand on this trash island, too, and even some beach grass growing. There’s a metaphor in that, but I was too preoccupied to care.
“I sailed towards the trash island, put one wary foot down and then the next. It held. I tied the boat to some piece of garbage, pulled down the sails, and sat down. I couldn’t believe my luck. Wiped out from the stress of the situation, I laid down and slept.
“I woke up later. I’m not sure how long I was out, maybe three hours, maybe three minutes. But I did know that I was cold. I searched around the pile of garbage looking for anything that might keep me warm. A blanket, or something. Among the trash, I found a small pink lighter with a picture of Hello Kitty waving up at me. I still have that lighter stashed away somewhere in my room. Perhaps I keep it as a memento, perhaps as proof.
“I piled up the beach grass, said a small prayer, closed my eyes, and opened the lighter. A little, shy flame flickered. For a few moments I sat in absolute disbelief that it still worked before I slowly brought it to the pile I had made. The grass took, and I sat by the fire amazed.
“That is, until I felt a small rumbling beneath me. Just a shake, a little tremor. It calmed for a moment, and then came back with a fury. I tried to stand as the island swayed beneath me, swinging from side to side. It was five nauseating turns before the island finally flipped entirely.
“I barely made it back onto the boat when I saw this island floating away. It took me a few shocked moments before I realized what had happened. The island was a fish. A giant fish. It was on one side for so long, garbage and sand had settled, and grass grew on it. When I lit the fire, I must have burned it, and it turned over. When it flipped, I was flung into the water, and if not for the fact that the ship was nearby, I would have drowned.”

I can usually stretch out my story for about twenty minutes. Then there’s about ten minutes of the kids thinking and taking turns saying whether or not they believed it. It’s usually about a fifty-fifty split.
So, half an hour of quiet game, half an hour of storytelling. That’s a third of the way through. Any suggestions for how to spend the other two hours?

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