A recent New Jersey news story discussed parents’ outrage over a standardized test question which asked third graders to write a secret about their lives that’s hard to keep. I think the parents misdirected their ire though. If they shared secrets with their kids, whether intentionally or by accident, then they have only themselves to blame when the proverbial beans get spilled. As I can attest from personal experience – including today’s episode – children find every confidence difficult to keep, if not impossible.
For a guy without kids of his own, I come in contact with a lot of the buggers. There’re my wife’s nieces and nephews, to start. Then there’s my third-grade mentee and his classmates. And, of course, let’s not forget the neighborhood kids I meet while walking the dog. It was during one of those daily constitutionals when a tyke first alerted me to the theory I like to call “the inevitable blab factor.”
As often happens, the small-fry in question initiated our interaction with a request to pet Prometheus. I acceded. While he patted the mutt’s head, I asked a polite question or two. Nothing too personal, mind you; just the innocuous: “What’cha doin’?”; “Is this your house?”; and “Where’s your mommy and daddy?”
The boy’s response to my last inquiry was the revelatory one: “It’s a secret.”
I couldn’t help myself: “What’s a secret?”
Without reflection or pause, he explained: “Daddy doesn’t live here anymore. He’s with my other daddy now. But mommy said not to tell anybody.”
Since that day, several other kids have mentioned their possession of secrets while conversing with me. Perhaps because I’m a lawyer, I’ve never been able to resist an interrogation, commencing with the same old: “What’s a secret?” The young chatterboxes answer every time. As a result, I’ve picked up some interesting tidbits about adults I don’t know, including these illuminating items:
“Mommy wears a diaper, just like Alex!” and
“Daddy has a funny looking pipe. He says he smokes it ’cause he’s got glockoma.”
This morning’s revelation may’ve been my favorite though. As a six-year-old girl massaged Prometheus, I asked if the toddler accompanying her was her sister.
“That’s what I’m s’posed to say.”
I couldn’t resist: “What do you mean you’re ‘supposed to say’?”
The magic words followed: “It’s a secret.”
“What’s a secret?”
“She came out of my big sister, so I guess she’s not really my sister; but I’m s’posed to say she is!”
If my career as a lawyer ever tanks, I know I’ll have a solid backup profession … as a blackmailer!