Punishing the Innocent along with the Guilty…

Yesterday was pretty full.

We started out the day with three soccer games, back to back. Everyone knows I really like to watch the games up close, so I was asked to referee two of them. The compliance training I have at work tells me this is a conflict of interest and I should decline, but the need for a warm body sometimes trumps ethics (Even though I try to be fair… but more about that later).

We then went to DBU where I teach and watched the baseball team play the University of San Francisco. My kids pigged out on hot-dogs, hamburgers, and cookies while I tried to explain how the game worked. I don’t know anything about baseball (thank goodness I don’t referee that game), so I didn’t know why the ball rolling underneath the outfield fence meant that the home run turned into a double. The end of the game was a walkoff-ball (Is that a thing!?! – Bases loaded and the batter got four balls.) which led to a lot of confusion between five Colombians that are very new to the game. It was a lot of fun, and God held the rain just long enough for us to get home without getting wet.

We then met up with Mami (who had gone to a musical with her mother and sister after soccer) with about a half-hour to get ready to go to our Sunday School party. No time to bathe, but we changed out of our soccer uniforms and into some fresher clothes and held our arms up for a few minutes to let the pits air out (We want to keep these people as our Sunday School class).

During that process, I went to the bathroom. When I was done, I flushed, washed my hands, and rejoined society. I was greeted at the door by one of our dogs with a “best offense” sticker (no doubt earned that morning) stuck directly over the little patch of white hair she has behind her head. I did what any rational-thinking person would do. I congratulated my dog on her scoring abilities, and giggled to myself thinking “How boring was life before we had kids?!”

About that time, our dog realized that she was being honored for her offense too, and she shook aggressively such that the sticker fell off on the floor beside her. I went into the kitchen where final preparations were being made for our mass exodus, and I asked who put the sticker on our dog, not to punish but to say it was funny and the sticker needs to be thrown away before we leave.

I immediately received five quick not-me’s.

This is where the otherwise great day went horribly bad. I told them that someone is not telling the truth. That was when my little defense attorneys began qualifying their answers.

“I don’t play soccer. I’m still too young.”

“I was only recognized for my defense today.”

“I stuck my sticker on my elbow. Do you want to see?”

I reminded them that the person wasn’t in trouble. I just wanted to know who it was so we could clean it up. I also reminded them that our problems get bigger when we lie. Despite my little speech, I had one little Colombian double-down on the lie while four others more frantically proclaimed their innocence. Over the past two and a half years, I’ve gotten to know my kids pretty well, and I had narrowed it down to two kids that would think it was funny and value humor over the personal recognition that the sticker represents.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t be sure, and I pressed a third time. Again, the same response.

I had no idea what to do at this point. A lie had been spoken, and we are a people of integrity, so that means there is a zero-tolerance policy on any lie, no matter how big or small. Those are great things to say, but in situations like that, convictions can be a little inconvenient. I just wanted this little thing to be over because I was looking forward to the party.

A fourth time, I asked, with the same response.

Beth was headed out the door with crock pots and telling me to wrap it up because we had to go.

I asked my two prime suspects directly, “Did you do it?”

“No” and “No.”

Then I had to pull out the big guns.

“If we can’t figure out who is lying, I guess we won’t go to the party.”

Yeah. It came out of my mouth, but my hope was, the stakes would be high enough at this point that one of them would finally move. I also knew that if I wanted to be a person of integrity (there I go with convictions again), I had better be willing to do what I said. That was pretty rough because everything that day was for the kids, and this was something I really wanted to do. They owed me these few hours with my church friends!

“Perhaps the sticker was on the floor face down, and the dog came by and rolled around in just the right manner as to accidentally affix it to her neck”, said one Colombian wanting to go to the party (maybe a little less eloquently as described here, but with the same basic idea).

I explained that it was too coincidental. I also said I was being super duper serious… secretly chanting “please don’t call my bluff”.

Beth gave me the now or never look. I had to make a call.

“Sorry, I guess we don’t know who lied so we are all going to miss the party.” Beth was pretty mad, and, from behind the door where only I could see, she mouthed “Really?!?” She knew what I had to do at that point. She told the kids that she was hosting the party and needed to leave, but they had to stay home with me and clean the house and go to bed early.

The door closed. The car pulled out of the driveway, and five little kids began to cry uncontrollably. I was crying on the inside too. Selfishly, not only did I miss my party, but I was now cleaning the house too, and all I did was seek the truth at all costs… I guess it cost me a lot!

When I was a kid, I remembered once arguing with one of my cousins about something stupid at a family reunion, and when we asked my uncle to settle it, he said “I’ll bust both your rears so I know I got the right one.” At the time, I thought this was barbaric and too heavy handed (pun intended). After all, how can punishing an innocent person be fair? Was I supposed to squeal and accept blame so Solomon wouldn’t cut my baby in half? Yet, here was I, punishing four innocent kids for the crimes of one… AND IT WASN’T EVEN A CRIME. It was a stupid sticker on the back of one of my dogs!

Beth called me from the party and said, “I was really mad at you for keeping the family from going to the party, but it is the right thing to do.” That was good to hear because I couldn’t tell if I was breaking new ground in child rearing or earning the “Worst-Parent Ever” award. Does anyone other than me have those moments?

I looked at the ten tear-filled eyes looking back at me and said, “If you are one of the kids that told the truth, I am so sorry this happened to you. If you are the one that lied to me, your lie ruined the evening for everyone in the family.” (Except for Mami… she said she had a great time not worrying about kids at the party)

We then proceeded to vacuum, fold laundry, do the dishes, dust, and clean rooms for the next three hours. After about 30 minutes of silence punctuated by a random sob here and there, the kids started getting into the work and we were able to get the house in pretty good shape for Beth when she got home… after all, the next day was Mother’s Day!

We then went to bed, and put a pin in this problem for nearly 24 hours. The next morning, Beth used her womanly intuition and, on Mother’s Day, determined who it was and told them it would be their decision, but they needed to confess to me what they did.

Tonight, my oldest son, came to me and confessed to the crime. I was so glad (seems weird to say here, but I have reasons… keep reading)! Not only was he one of my two suspects (and I love being right), but the trust in our relationship was severely damaged for the past day, and I hated that. I hated wondering which one of my kids had the audacity and maliciousness to lie to me repeatedly about something they did. It hurt me knowing that I wasn’t in a harmonious relationship with my family I had enjoyed so much the day before.

We talked about how our sin affects other people. We talked about integrity. We talked about how you have to live in fear with a damaged relationship when you deceive. We talked about how much better it feels to confess our mistakes then to keep them bottled up and hiding them. I told him that he, along with his brothers and sisters were all punished enough the night before, so no additional punishment was coming.

He listened to my whole sermon, but that last part may have been the only part he heard. For now, that’s good enough for me. The “Dog-Tag” affair was finally over.

Baby steps.

At the dinnermesa,