On Lying to Small Children

As the great Tom Selleck’s character Peter observed in 3 Men and a Baby, it doesn’t matter what you say to a baby, “it’s the tone you use.”

And so this is how to talk to the baby. Agreeing with her observations in cheerful, supportive voices. “Dog,” she might proclaim, sticking a tiny, damp finger up the nose of whichever unlucky canine is closest to her. “Yes, that is a dog,” you agree. “Dog,” she says again, turning to another pet (who, right at that moment, is considering what poor life choices brought him to this very situation at this very time), and bopping him on the face, too. Her pointing routine is simple. She simply extends her arm all the way, and it’s only the solidity of the object in question that stops her finger. 

I don’t know about your experience, but around here, dogs are getting poked in the face a lot. Despite the discomfort, they don’t want to leave the baby’s side because she is a toddling snack bar, dropping cookies, splashing milk, and injudiciously holding her food at just the right height for them to snag.

This particular baby is at that age where she’s discovered the joy of verbal communication, and she expresses that joy through repetition. She talks all the time…Her vocabulary may be limited, but it is well-practiced. 

Because babies are all about tone over content, and because – let’s be honest – they’re not that bright, you can tell them anything. It can, just to take a random example, start with one silly, little lie about milk. And that little lie grows and grows…

“Lactose-free milk comes from lactose-free cows.” 

Harmless. Inconsequential. You could (should?) just stop there, but of course you don’t.

“And, yes, of course it’s more expensive to manage a specialized production line of lactose-free cows, but it’s necessary.”

“But the most labor-intensive milk production is for rice milk,” you continue in a sing-song voice that makes sure the educationally deficient toddler is hanging on to every word. You explain that rice milk is produced by milking single rice grains…and of course the best workers for milking rice are small children because of their tiny, dexterous little fingers.

At this point, you might be tempted to take the story away from an in-depth look at the intricacies of the milk supply chain and into controversial labor practices by suggesting that Oompa Loompas are hired to supervise the small children on the rice milk production line.

We recommend, however, not to allow your lesson to veer into potentially distressing topics (child labor and the intrinsic exploitative nature of late-capitalism being better left for the grumpy, brooding, teen years), and focus instead on the topic at hand: specialty milk production.

“But don’t worry,” you assure your tiny listener. “If the children that milk the rice work very hard, they can get promoted to the soy milk line.”

Soy beans, obviously, being much easier to milk, due to their larger size.

And so you have provided the foundations for a lifetime of education and creativity. Any child that has you in his or her life is lucky you’re there. Whatever their teachers might say.

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