It's been said that the truth will set you free. But that's probably only true if you choose to tell it the first time. My seven-year-old learned this lesson the hard way yesterday.
"Mom, I had a bad day today."
This is what Elizabeth said to me when she climbed into the van yesterday. Little did I know, she would be the one taking me for the ride.
"Oh, really?" I asked "What happened?"
"I had to go to the principal's office," she said. "I have a note you need to sign."
"The principal's office? What for?"
Elizabeth met my question with silence. Several moments later, she said: "I accidentally pushed someone."
"I don't know," she said.
Red flag number one popped up. "How can you not know who you pushed?"
"I don't know," she said, again.
"Well, how did this happen?"
"Well." Elizabeth sighed. "I was walking into the school this morning and someone stepped on my shoestring. I tripped and accidentally pushed someone into the wall."
Red flag lowered. Given that Elizabeth is constantly running around with her shoes untied, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. "They sent you to the principal's office for that? Did you explain to Mrs. L. what happened? And did you apologize to the person you pushed?"
"Yes, Mom!" she said.
Red flag rose again. How could have she apologized if she didn't know who she pushed? I asked her this as we walked from the van to the house.
"Well, it was Caleb. I just forgot earlier," she said.
Skeptically accepting her explanation, I nodded, sat at the kitchen table and asked to see this note I was supposed to sign.
As Elizabeth pulled out the note, her eyes grew like saucers and she turned to me with an I'm-so-innocent-smile. "Mom, when I was writing the note, I accidentally put down that I slammed someone into the wall. I really just accidentally pushed them."
I lifted an eyebrow; red flag number two. "Really? Why don't you let me see the note?"
Taking the paper into my hands, I began scanning the note and feeling like the bull before a matador as the red flags really start flying. (Well, there was a lot of bull in my kitchen anyway.)
"Dear Mom and Dad: I lost my first recess today because I was caught slamming people up against the wall. We didn't stop the first time we were told, and so we had to go to the principal's office. I'm sorry. I won't do it again. Elizabeth"
I lowered the paper and looked squarely at my angelic seven-year-old.
"Elizabeth, this says you were slamming people against the wall, and that you didn't stop after the first time. Would you like to tell me the truth before I get upset?"
Her eyes rolled, and she grunted. "Ugh, OK." If I remember correctly, this is where the waterworks started, too. "Mom, Caleb was being mean to me and pushing me, and he wouldn't stop. So, I finally got angry with him and pushed him back and the teacher caught us."
A fight with a boy? Now, that I could believe, but the crocodile tears wouldn't let me ignore the red flags littering the playing field. "Well, did you explain that to the principal?"
"Yes." More waterworks.
"And you still lost your recess?"
"Yes." The kitchen began flooding with tears.
Nodding in sympathetic understanding, I patted her knee and said: "Now, Elizabeth, I believe you now, but you know I'm having a lot of trouble believing you because you lied to me the first time instead of telling me the truth. Do you understand that? And are you telling me the complete truth now?"
She wiped away the crocodile tears and nodded. "Yes, Momma."
"Okay, then. Get me a pen and I'll sign your letter."
Immediately, the waterworks dammed. She hopped off of her chair and skipped to the drawer. And another red flag flew: She was entirely too relieved.
"Elizabeth, while you're over there will you bring me the telephone and phone book. I need to call your principal to make sure I'm getting the full story."
Oh, the horror! Unfortunately for Elizabeth, she knew putting up a fight would lead to bigger trouble. So, she brought me the phone, the phone book and a pen.
I discovered at that moment that the dial tone of the telephone can produce the truth in a matter of seconds: "Fine Mom! Me and Kiley and Caleb and another boy were pushing and slamming each other into the wall. It was just a game, but we got into trouble anyway because we didn't stop when the teacher told us to stop."
The whole story emerged just as Mrs. L. greeted me from the other end of the phone. In less than five minutes, Mrs. L. confirmed Elizabeth's final version of the story as truth and thanked me for taking the time to check it out.
Suffice it to say, Elizabeth is grounded for awhile.
Epilogue: Elizabeth's best friend, Kiley, was involved in this fiasco, too. Kiley's dad happens to be my husband's boss. As it turns out, she didn't quite deliver the whole story to her parents either. Elizabeth knew my husband planned to ask her folks about it this morning and begged me to let her call Kiley last night. (But alas, she's grounded from the phone.) I bet it's been a long day of worry for Kiley.