January 9, Tuesday
My editor asked if it would be possible for me to keep track of my lies for one month and to write about it for publication on February 17. This was a physical impossibility because the deadline for the story would have passed before a month was even up.
"No problem," I said. "I've already started."
January 15, Monday
I got home from work wearing heavy-ish pants and a long-sleeved shirt and I walked into the kitchen, where it was easily 65C and as humid as sauce. All I wanted was to get into shorts and a T-shirt but my wife started telling me something about one of our children and I soon noticed it had the rhythms of a story with no definitive endpoint, so I went to get changed.
I thought I had got away with it but within seconds she called out, "You always do that!"
"Okay," I said, returning to the kitchen and sighing. "You can continue ranting at me."
I don't know why I said it. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I wanted to grab it and cram it back in.
"I'm glad you think when I talk about our kids that I'm ranting," she said.
"No," I said, "I didn't mean you were ranting about the kids. I meant you were ranting about my leaving the room."
This was a lie that didn't really help the situation.
January 16, Tuesday
I was, in theory, reading my two daughters The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name while they sat on my lap on the couch, but in practice I was watching the fourth one dayer between New Zealand and Pakistan on my phone, which was tucked discreetly in next to my leg, out of their line of sight.
I would look at a page of the book, memorise the text as best I could, then recite it as if I was reading, while really I was watching the cricket.
When I'd finished the book, I closed it and lifted it up in front of my face, so I could conceal my phone behind it and watch one last delivery before I had to get the girls ready for bed.
"What are you looking at on the back?" Tallulah asked.
I quickly dropped the phone into my lap and said, "I'm just reading the back of the book." For added plausibility, I then read it aloud. She looked into my eyes with a strange intensity. Had she detected dishonesty in my voice? Had she known what I'd been doing all along?
It made me feel so guilty! But she lies way more than I do. She's always doing mean things to her sister and telling us she hasn't.
January 16 (later)
It was 9.48pm when Zanna started complaining. I was already near the end of my tether because we were up working and still had a lot more work to do and I have a nightly reminder on my phone telling me to go to bed at 9.50pm.
I hoped her complaint would end quickly but it soon adopted the rhythms of something that wouldn't. Earlier that day I had seen some Bluetooth headphones online that I really wanted to buy and now I couldn't help but think how much more I wanted to be buying those headphones than listening to her complaint.
It was something about how when she sends some emails she wants to copy and paste but can't. It included something about the clipboard and something about losing text but I wasn't sure of the connections between all those things. To establish them would have required questions and clarifications that could have gone on for who knows how long.
"Yeah," I said, at what seemed to be a natural break in the exposition. "That's annoying as hell."
"Yeah," she said, and then there was silence.
This is the lie I feel worst about, but I was tired and societal norms are largely responsible for my consumerism, so I can't take all the blame.
January 17, Wednesday
I recently told my boss that my wife and I, following our move to a new house late last year, had become so good at flat-pack construction that we were thinking about starting up a business helping other couples who might be struggling.
That was two lies to start with. I had no intention of helping anyone and the only thing that has allowed us to survive the relationship trauma of our own flat-pack efforts has been for me to outsource the whole thing to Zanna. She reads the instructions, figures out how it all works, hands me the exact equipment I need and tells me exactly what to do. Whenever I finish an assigned task, I nag her about what to do next and she eventually shouts at me to wait.
So when my boss came to me one morning and said, "Hey, since you're such a flatpack genius … " and handed me a flattened storage box to construct, my first instinct was to text a photo of it to Zanna. That would, however, have been no good. The box had all manner of folds, lines, numbers and letters that needed to be aligned, slotted into each other and so forth. The instructions were already there on the box. Nothing Zanna could have told me would have been of use. I was alone.
I found a YouTube tutorial in which a guy did it in 10 to 15 seconds, which didn't help. By that stage, I had already spent about 15 minutes on it. It was only pride that forced me onwards, and I was eventually left with something that looked very much like a box, although I had somehow blocked off the holes that were intended as handles.
I told my boss there was a design flaw with the handles. I call this the lie to save face.
January 17, Wednesday
The instructor at Pump class asked me whether the volume was okay. This was a tough question because, of course it was way too loud, was always way too loud, but was it my place to say? There were more than 100 people in that class. Who was I to decide the correct volume?
I'm not really a fan of the loud dance music that adorns the hardcore fitness strivings of Pump anyway. I would prefer almost anything from the daytime playlist on Mix ("Music from the 70s, 80s, 90s") over, for example, the super-hype boom boom of current Pump playlist favourite We All Stars by Martin Solveig feat. Alma.
The instructor was on the stage with a microphone and I was at the back of the class with a cold and because of all that and the too-loud music, even if I had wanted to give a response to her question that conveyed the nuance of the above explanation — and I really didn't — I couldn't. So I just gave her the thumbs up.
This was a lie of selflessness.
January 18, Thursday
Every morning, when I'm about to get in the car to go to work, my 2-year-old daughter Clara says, "Can I put the keys in the didnition?" and every morning, even when I don't have time for the astonishing amount of time this seemingly simple act always entails, I say yes because it melts my soft daddy heart.
But this morning, after I had already handed Clara the keys, I heard Zanna call out, "It's too wet." She was right — it was pouring outside and therefore a terrible idea to let Clara out in it, but she's so cute and loves me so much, and just the way she says "Didnition!".
"Oh," I said, "Mummy says it's too wet."
I thought I had said it quietly enough but Zanna overheard and said, "You can't throw me under the bus like that!" She was right. Making her out to be the bad cop — the prissy, fussy mummy to my cool fun dad — was a bad thing to do, especially since she is already Clara's second favourite parent by a long way.
So I said: "What I meant was that I hadn't realised it was wet outside until you said it was."
I call this the supportive husband lie.
January 18, Thursday
I tried to cook ratatouille for dinner. I never cook and I'm terrible at it. I don't even know what ratatouille is.
If I follow a recipe, things are bad, but I wasn't following a recipe. Nothing could have been surer than that this dinner would be inedible.
"Sorry for this awful slop," I said, serving it up to Zanna.
"I'm sure it will be delicious," she lied.
This exchange was the exact inverse of the one that precedes every other dinner at our house, which involves Zanna doing the apologising and me delivering the reassurance.
"This merry dance we go through," I said.
Zanna laughed and said we needed a lie detector.
She took a mouthful of the "ratatouille", chewed and took a while to think of something to say.
"This is really yum, honey," she said, eventually.
"It's not," I said authoritatively, having just tasted it myself.
"Well," she said, "I know how much you hate cooking, so I have low expectations."
This was not a lie but rather a misunderstanding of the saying, "Honesty is the best policy."
January 20, Saturday (morning)
Zanna had been changing one of the children's nappies.
"I'm just going to put the poo down the toilet," she said.
"Just put it in the rubbish," I said.
"You can't put poos in the rubbish," she said.
"I've proven over and over again that you can," I said.
That made her very angry.
"It's really bad for the landfill!" she said.
"No," I said, "It's good for the landfill."
"No!" she said, "Just stop! You're making up bullshit!"
I call this the lie from not wanting my wife to spend more time than necessary doing something that will leave me alone with three whining children.
January 20 (later)
We were at my sister-in-law's birthday party at the botanic gardens. It was a lovely afternoon with small children running amok while their parents sat about on picnic blankets.
A park ranger came over "Are you drinking alcohol?" he asked.
"No," I said, looking him square in the eye, faintly outraged by the accusation. Then I looked around the picnic blankets and noticed three partially drunk bottles of beer.
January 21, Sunday
Tallulah was talking to me at breakfast but I wasn't really listening. All I really heard was "bun".
"Yum!" I said enthusiastically.
"No," Zanna said, "She's saying she's got a bun in her hair."
"I know," I lied.
January 22, Monday
Zanna was telling me that all the kids at Tallulah's new kindergarten were really old.
"Why?" I asked.
"There's a waiting list and they prioritise the oldest kids. That's why Tallulah got in."
I wondered aloud what that was going to mean for Clara, who will turn 3 in July. Did that mean she wouldn't be able to get in this year?
Zanna looked at me agog. "Are you kidding me?" she asked although it was clear I wasn't. She said, "We have talked about this so many times!"
"I'm joking," I said. "Of course I remember."
This is the lie from not wanting your wife to know there are so many times you have not listened.
January 23, Tuesday
Zanna cooked tofu and broccoli in garlic sauce. "Thanks, honey," I said. "This is delicious."
January 25, Thursday
"Can you do that vasectomy story for next week?" my editor asked late in the afternoon.
I did a quick calculation and saw that she had given me less than two working days to write a story I had anticipated sprawling out languidly over the next week.
"No, I can't," I told her. "No way."
"You could have until Tuesday lunchtime," she said.
"Oh," I said, "Okay, in that case … umm ... "
"Would that be all right?" she said, clearly sensing my weakness.
No, it wasn't. It gave me barely a few more hours.
"Oh yeah," I said, "Definitely", because this was a situation where my ongoing job security was dependent on my dishonesty.
January 25, (later)
It was about 9pm when Zanna and I finished tidying up the house after getting all the kids into bed. The TV wasn't working properly and she was up and down from the couch, working with both the remote and the screen itself, getting increasingly agitated while I sat motionless on the couch. I was making occasional noises of support for her work, but predominantly I was watching the second T20 between New Zealand and Pakistan on my phone, which I'd tucked slightly under my right thigh, so it wouldn't be noticed.
"Why can't we get Freeview working!?" Zanna said, jumping up again to fiddle with something on the TV.
"Mmmm," I said, adopting a tone of what I hoped came across as concern.
I call this a tonal lie.
January 26, Friday
Every weekday morning I am up at 5.50am at the latest, usually accompanied by at least one and typically two of my children demanding all sorts of things I don't have the time or emotional capacity to deal with while I'm still waking up. Zanna doesn't like to get up until 6.30am and that's fair, since she spends the bulk of the night waking up to children, but sometimes I find the 40 minutes between my wake up and hers a hellscape.
This morning I was particularly tired and 11-month-old Casper and two-year-old Clara were both just constantly at me. At 6.20am, I crept into my bedroom and stroked Zanna's arm until, as always, she awoke and looked hatefully up at me.
"What time is it?" she hissed, squinty-eyed like a serpent in the half-light.
"Twenty-five past six," I said.
This is a lie that proves how long five minutes really is.
January 28, Sunday
I told a friend that the reason for my vasectomy was that Casper is so cute I couldn't trust myself to not have another child.
In reality, Casper had nothing to do with it. There's no way on earth I could physically or emotionally survive a fourth child. I would have had my vasectomy a year ago, even before Casper was born, if I wasn't such a terrible procrastinator. That is just a fact.
January 30, Tuesday
I was standing in the kitchen reading something on Twitter while Zanna was in the shower. When I heard her coming out, I quickly put my phone in my pocket and started doing the dishes.
This is the lie from wanting to be able to get on my moral high horse when I catch Zanna on her own phone.
January 31, Wednesday
I was in the office kitchen making an afternoon Milo when I discovered a paper bag with my boss's name on it. Opening the bag, I saw that it contained cookies. I put my cup back in the cupboard.
"I found this in the kitchen, addressed to you," I told my boss, then sat down at my desk opposite hers and waited excitedly as she opened it.
"Cookies!" she said.
"Cookies?" I asked, faking surprise.
This is the lie from not wanting your boss to know you've opened her mail.
February 1, Thursday
It was about 9.30pm and Zanna and I had just sat down in front of the TV when Casper started to cry. I went in and settled him back to sleep. While I cuddled him, I used my phone to attempt to book tickets to smash hit film The Post. It proved impossible to do one handed, so I switched over to the iBooks app, and spent a few minutes reading Great Expectations.
I had only been out of the bedroom a minute or two when Casper started crying again. I sighed and waited for Zanna to offer to go in, but she didn't, so up I got once more.
"That's probably me for the night," I told her.
"Poor Caspie," she said.
"Poor me!" I said.
"He's the one who's upset," she said.
"I'm upset!" I said. "I just don't cry about it."
"It's fine for you!" she said. "You can just read on your phone."
"I can't!" I said. "He doesn't like it!"
This is the lie from the hope that your wife will deal with your baby so you can just watch a little bit of TV before going to bed.
February 6, Tuesday (Waitangi Day)
Tallulah and Clara were watching some intellectually empty YouTube clip where people were playing with Barbie dolls. I told them I was going to let them watch to the end of the clip, but then the TV was going off.
"No," Tallulah said, "I can watch another one after that."
"No," I said. "As I just mentioned, you can't."
She argued with me and I argued with her and we were getting nowhere, until finally I said, "Mummy wanted me to turn it off now but I'm prepared to let you watch to the end because that's the kind of daddy I am."
This is the type of lie that is necessary to win an argument with a 4-year-old and also a lie about the kind of daddy I am.
February 6 (later)
Tallulah asked if she could take her Elsa doll in the paddling pool at her grandparents' house. I wasn't sure, so I asked Zanna, who screwed up her face before grudgingly saying, "Okay". Because I am empathetic enough to have understood the disconnect between Zanna's words and feelings, I went back to Tallulah and said, "Mummy said 'No.'"
"No," Tallulah said, "That's not true. She said, 'Okay.'"
"Did she?" I said, "I thought she said, 'No kay'."
This was a lie designed to create the illusion of honesty.
February 8, Thursday
Tallulah was packing away one of her games at the end of the day. I told her she had to let Clara help. She said, "No I don't."
"Mummy said you have to let Clara help," I said.
"No, she didn't," she said, because Zanna was in the room with us and it was clear that she hadn't said a word to anyone about anything.
"She whispered it to me," I said.
This was the lie that finally brought me to the realisation of how often I lie to our children about things my wife has said.
February 10, Saturday
"I love what you do around the house," Zanna told me, "but I took the cardboard boxes out of the rubbish bin."
I had slipped a couple of boxes into the rubbish because the recycling was full and we still had so many cardboard boxes left after moving house that an entire room had been given over to them.
"It makes me sad that you have so little respect for the environment," Zanna said.
"I did it for you," I lied, "because you hate all the boxes."
"No," she said, "You hate all the boxes."
"The silver ones can't be recycled," I lied.
"They can be recycled," she said.
That was it: a month keeping track of my lies. We were past deadline for the February 17 issue, but by that point the editor had presumably realised I didn't have enough time and moved the story back in the schedule. Maybe she had never wanted it for February 17 in the first place. Maybe it was all a lie to get me working faster.
Anyway, I was nearly finished writing to the new deadline, having put other work to one side, having pushed myself to my very limits mentally and emotionally, nearly there, when she said to me: "Not sure if this will please you or annoy you. I'm now going to hold your lies piece until March 17. That okay?"
"Yep," I said, with surprisingly little hesitation. "That's fine."