I'm not sure where the "pants on fire" part came from. However, no child ever wants to be at the pointed end of that remark. Even as adults, we don't want our dishonesty exposed, do we?
Still, lying is part of growing up, isn't it? As much as we Mom Snobs would like to believe our children would never lie, it's actually a necessary evil. Dishonesty is one of those things that must be experienced firsthand in order to feel it's sting. Unfortunately, It's lesson is not something that can be taught in a well-worded lecture.
I remember my quiet, calculating daughter's first lie experiment. Let me set the scene.
The guest room was located in the back corner of the basement. We affectionately referred to it as the "Jayhawk Room." It wasn't just crimson and blue. Oh, no. In fact an uber-sized flock of Jayhawks flooded the wall paper-floor to ceiling. Pennants and posters were pinned up over that and every horizontal surface was littered with statues, knick-knacks, and memorabilia. We didn't use the room often, but a king-sized water bed took up most of the floor space, so the kids loved to roll around in there on occasion.
So I was surprised the day I went into the Jayhawk Room for some random purpose that now no longer matters. One step into the Rock Chalk Shrine and Crunch! I looked down to see the floor strewn with dry spaghetti noodles. Only one of my children was still in the dry spaghetti noodle fetish phase. I found her and brought her to the Jayhawk Room. I pointed to the mess on the floor. She got the look. That I-know-she-knows-but-I-don't-want-her-to-know-I-know look.
"Honey, do you know who made this mess?"
Dramatic Pause. "Yes."
Good Girl. She's going to tell the truth.
"Well, who made it?"
Second Dramatic Pause. Eyes searching her surroundings.
Oh, no. She's faltering.
Eyes meet mine, shining with her brilliant light bulb moment.
"The Jayhawks did it."
"The Jayhawks did it?"
"Yes, the Jayhawks."
"Um, which Jayhawks?"
She points to the wallpaper. "Those."
"So, those Jayhawks flew off the wall and upstairs to the kitchen, opened the spaghetti package, carried the noodles down here and dropped them all over the floor?"
My daughter spent a good amount of that day picking noodles out of the carpet. Her feathered friends never pitched in to help. Guess they were mad that she ratted them out.
She's gotten a little better at lying now. They all do. Because even when we make them face the consequences for the lies we catch them in, there are probably dozens we never know about. And when they get away with it, it reinforces the idea that they can continue to get away with it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of grown up kids with issues out there who very obviously didn't get caught enough.
I said she's gotten a little better. But only a little. She has a nervous smile that gives it away. Thank goodness for that, otherwise with her quiet and calculating nature, she wouldn't get caught enough either. I think the smile give-away is God's way of keeping her honest because she has such a gullible mom. Not gullible enough to believe that Jayhawk nests are lined with pasta, however. Or maybe it's just a play between her naturally good heart and that pre-teen thing. She has to give it a try, but her heart's not really in it.
Which reminds me of another Proud Mom Moment. This one is not mine, but I can certainly appreciate it. A friend's teenage daughter was sitting shotgun when her boyfriend wrecked his car. It wasn't serious, but the boy freaked out. He immediately began weaving the tale to tell the parents so it wouldn't seem so much his fault. When she finally arrived home, the girl knew she had to come clean about the wreck. The boyfriend's parents would undoubtedly be calling in a few minutes. The conversation went something like this:
"Mom, while I was out with Tony, he wrecked his car. He made up some story I'm supposed to tell you but I can't remember how it goes, so I'm just going to tell you the truth."
Yes! Isn't the that the lesson we want them to learn in the first place. Honesty is so much easier. Even when you think it might be more painful initially, there are just too many things that can go wrong. And when the truth does come out--and it always does--the deceit has usually done more damage than the truth would have done in the first place.
Setting someone's pants on fire for lying is a little harsh. So maybe the sing-song phrase just means that sometimes lies are as obvious as flaming Wranglers. Or a nervous smile. Maybe it means that dishonesty just isn't worth the pain, no matter which end of the remark you're on.