I was wandering around the yard the other day when I came upon Sky sitting in the dirt, rolling marbles along the ground. He looked up and smiled.
"Daddy?" he said. "Do you like marbles?"
"Sure," I said. "As much as I like toy planes."
He picked up a pretty one and showed it to me. "This one's called a beach ball," he said, showing it off. "It's my favorite."
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"You know," I said, "when I was in school, they used to call me the marble king."
"They did?" he said.
"No, not really," I said. "But I won a lot of marbles off people."
That's when the thought first occurred to me.
"Hey," I said, "where did you get those marbles?"
"Oh, someone gave them to me," he said.
He said it innocently, carelessly. I thought back to my hard-core marble days on the playgrounds behind Dent Elementary School in Escalon. The word "keepsies" crept into my mind for the first time in decades. I decided to probe further.
"Someone just gave them to you?" I said.
"Does someone have a name?"
He looked up, but didn't answer. His face took on a blank expression, conveying his realization this little conversation somehow had ballooned into an interrogation. Fueling my fire was a little story I'd recently read that indicated most kids begin lying to their parents at
6 months of age.
"Hello?" I said. "It only takes this long to think of a name if you're making it up."
Still, he said nothing. I could almost see the wheels turning, trying to figure a way out. He knew this wasn't good, but silence was only making it worse. Finally, he spoke.
"John," he said.
(Disclaimer: John is not the name Sky provided. I changed it because his father is stronger than I am and I've heard he has some sort of fighter training.)
"So John just gave you his marbles because you're a nice guy?" I said.
"I don't know why," Sky said, getting defensive.
I decided to swoop in with the hammer. "Is it because you won them?"
"No," he said.
"Are you sure?" I said. "You can't be taking marbles from people."
"I didn't," he said.
"OK," I said, leaving it at that.
But the next morning, just before Sky left for school, I noticed him playing marbles in the living room. Without warning, I swooped in. And the interrogation resumed.
"So, today I'm going to ask John if he gave them to you or if you won them," I said. "And then, just to make sure, I'm going to ask his dad."
Sky's face turned red with anger. He scrunched his face into a contorted wince that comes anytime he isn't getting his way. We're working on this, folks, but for now he has very little control of this reaction. He's certainly not ready for poker. I thought I sensed him cracking.
"He gave you all those, right?"
Sky rolled his eyes, separated the marbles into two piles of three.
"He gave me those three," Sky said.
"Where'd the other three come from?"
"I got this one from our marble drop game," he said. "And I found these other two."
"Found them?" I said. "Where?"
"On the playground."
"You didn't win them, right?" I said.
"No," he said, his face somehow growing even redder. "Why are you asking me so many questions?"
"Because I want to know what happened," I said. "Yesterday, you told me John gave them to you. Now you said you found some of them. Your story is changing. I was a kid once, too. Don't you think I might know what really happened?"
"No," he said.
"No," he said. "Because you weren't there."
The kid had a point. Inside, I flashed back to my childhood, how my mother always seemed to eat me alive in these interrogations. I could never figure out how, but she always knew the truth no matter how good my story was. Or she was a master bluffer. Either way, I never stood a chance.
Now, here I was, trying to fake my way into getting some sort of a confession. And I was flailing miserably. Damn, I thought suddenly, what if he is telling the truth? Then another question popped into my mind: What the hell am I doing? Before I could escape, Sky took the offensive.
"Why are you doing this?" he said.
"Doing what?" I said.
"Making me not want to be around you?"
(That one hurt.)
"I'm just trying to figure out what happened," I said.
"I told you," he said. "But you don't believe me."
"I want to believe you," I said. "But your story changed, so I wasn't sure."
Luckily, at that point, Amber bailed me out, announcing it was time to go to school. I looked at Sky, and caved.
"Can I have a hug?" I said.
"I guess so," he said.
And we hugged, but I think it made only me feel better. He let go first. As he walked off to the car, I realized he had won the battle. If he was lying, he never caved. If he was telling the truth, then I was an idiot. And now I think he was telling the truth.
Parents aren't always smarter than kids, just older. We still make stupid choices like we always have, choices like launching an interrogation over a trivial subject. Looking back now, I'm not even sure why I tried it. It just sort of happened, and I went with it. You know, sometimes this whole playing-the-adult thing is harder than it looks. Or maybe I've just taken the first step in that old parental game called losing my marbles.
Bee staff columnist Ty Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 874-5716.