IN my house when somebody says they don't know where something is, they know.
When they say they haven't seen it, they have.
And when they swear black and blue they haven't eaten the last triple choc Tim Tam I was planning on enjoying once I finally sat down for the evening, it's a safe bet they are choking on the last mouthful.
I'm not saying I live with a pack of compulsive liars, but try asking out loud in my house: “The milk's off – who left it on the kitchen bench?” and the show will begin.
Depending on how cranky I am or how long the milk has been out of the fridge their performances will be entertaining enough for me to sell tickets.
But of all the questions I ask in an average week, which can range from the more mundane “Who made this mess?”, “What is that smell?” or “How much is this going to cost?” to the more frustrating “Why didn't you tell me you needed it last night?” or “Why are there paw prints on the dining room table?”, the one question that is absolutely money-back guaranteed to never get a straight answer is “Who broke that?”
It's amazing. Point to something in my house and ask “Who broke that?” and my family will gladly perform perjury, lie like rugs or try to convince me we have a poltergeist instead of owning up to the deed.
They would rather confess to manslaughter (which admittedly, in our house, carries a lesser sentence) than come out and say they broke something.
They'll stand straight-faced and blame each other, the neighbours or the dog. You wouldn't want to be standing in a police line-up with my mob.
Not only will they gladly throw you under the proverbial bus, they will be the ones driving it.
Now I can understand with my “you broke it, you bought it” household policy no one will be jumping up and down and volunteering to have their pocket money confiscated to pay for a new kitchen blind or a replacement glass panel for the front door (just two of the recent “poltergeist incidents” that are still under full investigation at our place), but is it too much to ask for a simple “Yes mum, I did it, I'm sorry” once in a while?
Over the years I've tried different tactics to squeeze out admissions of guilt.
Threats, bribes, guilt trips and tears have all been used with minimal success.
Of course, the promise of “I won't get mad just as long as you tell me the truth” method of extraction is great, but the downside is that it only works a couple of times.
The smart ones soon wake up that my clenched teeth and strained voice are only a heartbeat away from full hysteria.
And there is no hope of collaring a culprit unless you can separate the suspects and interrogate them individually.
I've learned the hard way that divide and conquer is the only way you're ever going to come close to finding out who broke the computer mouse, who sent the vase of flowers crashing to the floor or who was doing Tarzan impersonations in the bathroom and is responsible for a shower nozzle now hanging limp from the wall.
But if you keep at it long enough and use enough direct eye contact and finger pointing, one of them will eventually crack.
And this week it was hubby.
Poor thing, when it comes to believing the “I won't get mad just as long as you tell the truth” line of questioning, he's got a lot to learn from the kids.
Family Taming is a weekly humour column written by Wendy Andrews.
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