Monday, February 8, 2021

I Want the Truth!

Preach Lt. Kaffee!

~~~

You Want Answers?

It never gets old. I've done it hundreds of times. But, it is still my favorite part of the day. 

Picking my kids up from school brings with it an energy that I badly need around 3:45pm each day. As they launch themselves into the backseat of my car under hurried pressure by the carpool monitors, they bring with them loud, joyful greetings, violent backpack drops and a couple of annoyed jabs at each other for an unintentional elbow hit. 

A few days ago, my daughter's energy was noticeably different from the moment she clicked her seatbelt. While my son was halfway through his usual onslaught of school news, I could see through the rearview mirror that my daughter wasn't quite herself. 

"What's wrong?" I asked her.

"Nothing," she responded. 

Having mastered the art of the "Mom Nag" I didn't accept that dismissal since her watery eyes and slumped shoulders were telling a completely different story. 

"Friend stuff?"

"No."

"Are you feeling sick?"

"No."

"You seem sad, are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes."

"Are you just tired?"

"Yes."

We stopped at a stoplight and I mentally reprimanded myself. 

Let it go, Sheevani! Yes, she's clearly upset about something, but maybe she just needs a minute. Give her space!

Then I remembered she had her math test that day. So much for letting it go.

"Oh! How did your math test go?" 

"Fine."

"You think you did okay?"

"Yes."

Sighhhhh. I was getting nowhere and with the rise of frustration in my chest, I decided to really let it go this time. She will tell me when she's ready... or she won't. These days her friends got most of the chatty attention via FaceTime or texts. I begrudgingly accepted her mood and asked my son to continue about the news of his day.


Code Dread

Unit, Corp, God, Country... aaaaand Consequences

~~~

About a half an hour after we arrived at home, I received an email from my daughter's teacher. The subject read, "Incident from Study Hall." A warm wave of panic made its way down my arms. I could hear the shower running upstairs. My daughter was busy washing the day off of her, no doubt scrubbing away what I was about to read. With a deep breath, I clicked on the message. 

My daughter had cheated on her math test.

The words bounced around in my vision and the phrases "meeting with the Dean" and "detention" and "disappointed in her behavior" jumped out and stung me like hot oil spattering from a pan.

I took another deep breath. I re-read the email after my heartbeat slowed and I could absorb each word.

Since she'd been having some issues with her math test, her incredibly kind teacher allowed her some extra time at the end of the day to complete her test. She was given this time during the study hall period which is where students work quietly at their desks. My girl started getting frustrated and visibly upset which prompted a couple of her friends to go over to her desk with the intention of comforting her... which led to them helping her with the test problems. When the teacher saw this, she reprimanded all three of them. 

Okay. So it wasn't a situation where she had conspired to cheat on her test. Whew... it was a relief to know my daughter wasn't a totally different person than I had known for the past 10 years. What happened was sort of... accidental cheating, but cheating nonetheless. She certainly knew she should have told her friends, "Thanks, but no thanks." 

As I let the situation settle into my consciousness, I felt a range of emotions; disappointment, worry, confusion. After I cycled through my initial reactions, I felt... anger. Anger because she had lied to me over and over again in the car and then again after we got home when I gave it one last effort to get her to open up about what was wrong. Her lies came out as effortless as reflexes... and that crushed me.

Knowing my girl and her lifelong reputation as a people-pleaser, I knew getting in trouble must have been devastating. Every conference or casual encounter with her teachers since daycare never failed to entail some comment about what a delight she is to have in class. My daughter thrives on this. In fact, the previous night was our parent-teacher conference where the same teacher who caught her cheating had clutched her chest when she expressed how much she loved our daughter. "I absolutely ADORE her," she had said. 

The hiss of the shower ceased. She was done. 

No doubt this was brutal for her, but she still lied to me repeatedly. I was experiencing both anger and sympathy, the combination of which left me with an unexpected stoicism as I climbed the stairs to confront her about what I knew. My legs were moving at a slower pace, weighed down by the realization that this was the angriest I'd ever been at my firstborn child.

"I just got an email from your teacher," I said. She was standing in the tub wrapped in her towel. Maybe I should have waited until she was dressed. 

"Oh," she said and looked down.

"Yeah," I said. We stood in silence for a few seconds. 

"She said you're going to have lunch detention next week and..."

My girl buckled at the knees and started sobbing.

"Oh NOOOOO!" she screamed. 

"Hey... heyyyy. Come here," I pulled her up and wrapped my arms around her, my shirt soaking in the dampness of her hair. 

Her cries came from deep inside her and then she started shouting into my stomach.

"I'm the worst kid! I'm so sorry! Punish me however you want, I'm terrible! I'm such a bad kid! Everyone hates me! YOU must hate me! Dad will hate me! My teacher hates me!"

I swallowed hard. She was breaking my heart, but contrary to my usual empathic ways, I felt no tears coming. I was still too mad at her for lying to me. This was uncharted territory for both of us. 

"Stop," I said gently and pulled away, "you're not a terrible kid. You made a mistake. You made a big mistake. I don't want you to think you're the worst kid, that's not true. You're a really good kid who messed up and now you're going to have to deal with what happens..."

She nodded her head and wouldn't meet my eyes. I saw the goosebumps on her arms and her kneecaps bouncing with chill. 

"Go get dressed and we'll talk about this some more... go. Oh, and no iPad for tonight and maybe the rest of the weekend, okay?"

For the next few hours, Paul and I dealt with our distressed daughter. After exchanging emails with her teacher, we understood better the next steps and discussed with her how to navigate the toughest challenge in her young life. 

"Look, I'm actually glad you're this upset, hon, " I said, "it makes me feel better that you understand just how serious this is."

"And we don't hate you, sweetie," Paul reassured her, "we love you so much, we know you, we know you're a great little girl. But when you make a mistake, you have to accept the consequences."

She was snuggled up in the crook between her dad's chest and chin when I decided to finally bring up what broke my heart the most. I'd kept it at bay until she was calm enough to hear it. 

"So, I have to say the thing I'm most upset about is how many times you lied to me today."

Her exhausted eyes looked at me with regret. 

"I mean, I asked you at least 10 times what was bothering you on the way home. I even asked specifically about your math test!"

"I know," she said softly.

"Honestly, that's the worst part of this whole thing for me. You've lost some trust with me today. That doesn't mean you can't earn it back, but knowing how many times you lied to me during that car ride home, I... I don't trust you as much as I used to," my voice was thin and strained. She was hearing me, but my hurt and anger made me continue.

"Even if you think I'll get mad, you HAVE to tell me the truth. Believe me, if I catch you lying, things will go WAY worse than if you just tell me the truth in the first place, do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Please don't lie," my eyes were closed, "please, please don't lie to me. Seriously, it's my number one rule... DO NOT LIE."

"Okay, I'm sorry, Mom."

I opened my mouth to say it again, but one more time felt repetitive. Her eyes were fixed on me and I could feel that moment - my voice, my words, my expression - was making an imprint. 

Will she lie to me again? Of course she will. But at least she knows where I stand on the matter. 


ARE WE CLEAR!? Crystal.

Watch out Colonel Jessup, Kaffee's GOT YOU!

~~~

One of the most jarring things to accept as a parent is the pace at which your kids grow. Sure, legs get longer, chubby feet elongate and the tic-tac teeth disappear... but the mental and emotional growth spurts are what keep me out of breath on a regular basis. Parenting my daughter through this experience was both draining and rewarding. For reasons that are so painfully relevant right now, I cannot think of a more important lesson than accepting consequences when you make a mistake. Hang on, I need to state that again...

ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE.

Since our children are witnessing too many adults acting in such foolish and shameful ways, I find myself pushing hard on these life lessons. Lessons which used to be so fundamental but are now being treated with suspicion and hypocritical caveats. I mean, it used to be a bad thing to lie. Remember that? Lying would actually get you in trouble. Now, we are trapped in this backslide where all the things that used to make you a bad person can often be rewarded. I have never been more motivated to fight against the normalization of lying and for fundamental ethics. 

Paul and I also made sure to dispel her of any presumption we have of perfection. We told her we expect her to make mistakes, that mistakes were a part of life. Stories were told from our own lives where we'd messed up and had to face tough consequences. 

"The most important thing is that you learn from every mistake," Paul said.

"Exactly. If you keep making the same mistakes over and over again without learning from them, that's when I'll be disappointed." I said.

My daughter was in a funk for the next couple of days, and that showed me she was on a path to regain some of the trust she'd lost. She even self-grounded herself from her iPad when I lifted the punishment. At 6:30 Monday morning, I found her sitting on her bed in tears. 

"I'm just nervous to see my teacher," she said, "and I'm nervous about the detention."

I was expecting this.

"I know, but this is what we talked about. Today you are facing the music because you were caught cheating. It will be tough, I don't blame you for being nervous. You got this."

She nodded and laid her head on my shoulder. I kissed her tear-soaked cheek before getting up to leave the room. Then, in a pure Mom Nag moment, I felt an urge.

"I'm still really hurt that you lied to me, you know. No matter how hard it is to tell the truth, please do not lie."

"Okay."

I had to say it again. Because unlike what Colonel Jessup believes, I CAN handle the truth!




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