Spoiler: it’s us.
Let me explain.
My Boychild missed his first day of the fifth grade.
We were so looking forward to the new year, and Boychild couldn’t wait to see his friends. As we got closer to the school, he started complaining of a stomachache.
He was fine when we left the house–maybe a little bit of nervous energy, maybe some other thing that I was missing in the excitement of the day. This was the year when he’d have Mrs. C–legendary fifth grade teacher and shaper of middle schoolers-to-be. Retired from a career in Providence Public Schools and now in her second gig in a Catholic school, we parents warned her each year that she had better not retire until our child got through fifth grade. Mrs. C was not to be trifled with, but also kind and passionate and fun. Both of my children still think of her as one of their best teachers ever.
We turned the corner nearest the school, and Boychild, by now crying pitifully and drooling, announced that he was GOING TO THROW UP. I quickly pulled over, out of sight of the teachers and classmates, just in time for him to open the car door and toss his cookies all over the curb. I jumped out of the car and ran around to his side, wondering if we had a whole puking car ride home ahead of us, wondering if I had a plastic grocery bag, wondering what the hell I was going to do. I consoled him, telling him that he could not go to school if he was sick, and that I’d call and let them know.
This is all leading up to the moment last year, when Boychild sheepishly (but with a chuckle) informed me that he had faked that whole thing, and that he couldn’t go to school because he had not finished his summer reading and was afraid of Mrs. C.
I was incredulous. But you threw up out the car door, I said.
“Errm, well actually, I found a granola bar in the back seat. So I low key opened it, and while you ran around the car, I chewed it up and spit it out of the car door and pointed at it as evidence that I was sick.”
You repurposed a granola bar in order to fake-hurl and get taken home?
“Yes, I guess I did.”
I like to think that my “never say never” game was strong by then. But I’m pretty sure that until that moment, I thought that I would never allow my kid to a) not finish his summer reading, and b) fake sick (because of course I’d know if he was faking) on the first day of school to avoid the consequences. I was also pretty sure that my non-licensed, no-permit Girlchild would not take the car on a tentative joyride and hit a parked car just down our block, until the day that she did just that (the cop was right–we do laugh about it now, but he was wrong about just how soon it would be laughed about).
I’ve been fortunate not to be around too many openly judgmental mom-friends over the years, but this really touches a nerve with me. My thoughts on this topic go way back to a time when Jihad and Poop were my children’s main transgressions–and they continued through recent years, when we ought to know better than to get on our high horse with our friends. And yet, we do it, in flagrant Mom-Code violation.
Let this serve as a sobering reminder. Our children are
rotten fabulous but imperfect beings, and the more they grow, the more imperfect they get. Let’s sharpen our swooping-in (like, with humor and wine and reassurance) skills and let our all-knowing authority about other people’s children grow rusty from lack of use.