Editor's Note: Jennifer Joyner wrote for Go Ask Mom in its early days a few years and returns after a hiatus today. Welcome back, Jennifer!
Don’t you just love it when one of those “teachable moments” unexpectedly comes at one of the worst possible times?
You’re in a hurry, you’re late, you have 5,000 things to do before your head hits the pillow and BOOM …. parenting crossroads land directly in your path, demanding you make a decision: Do the right thing or do the easy thing?
Well, you’ve been up since 3 a.m., trying to finish a work assignment before the morning rush to get the kids to school. And then you had more work and errands and laundry and phone calls to return … and… oh, my …. I absolutely don’t have time for this.
Emma, my fourth grader, was wrapping up homework, putting things back in her binder as I held pajamas and toothbrush in hand. The sooner she was in bed, the sooner I could finally … mercifully … close my eyes. Let’s get this show on the road.
“Mom," she said, pulling a green sheet out of her folder. “We forgot to read.”
My heart sank. We’d forgotten to read. Granted, we had had chorus, then we had soccer practice, then we had Scouts and piano lessons. I make it a point to not over schedule my kids, but EVERYTHING falls on Tuesdays this year, for some unforgivable reason. The fact that I’d managed to feed both children and supervise their other homework, I considered a true triumph. But … the reading.
I could tell Emma was starting to get upset. “Every night, I have to write down what I read and how long I read and you have to sign it," she said, thrusting the sheet toward me.
I busied myself by straightening the kitchen table, trying to act and sound nonchalant. “Oh, honey. Missing one night is not the end of the world. We’ll fill it out like usual and then we’ll make up for it tomorrow night.”
Here’s where Emma, who no one would ever call a saint, who has been known to sneak treats out of the pantry after being told many times not to, who has, on one particularly painful occasion, spoken disrespectfully to a grown-up, to the point that I stripped her bedroom of all 523 stuffed animals that she holds most dear in the world … here’s where I get a glimpse of the innocence she has, that all young children have, at their core, at this young age.
“Mommy, we can’t lie," she says almost whispered, her eyes as big as saucers.
I could feel the heat rising up my neck, but I was still trying to play it down. “No, Emma, it’s not like you haven’t read. You are, in fact, way ahead of your reading. You even worked on your book list over the summer.”
“But I didn’t read tonight. That’s the lie.”
I finally met her gaze. “Well," I started, a little more weakly. “It’s … well, technically … it’s, you know, a white lie.”
Emma scowled as only a pre-teen can toward her mother. “A white lie? That sounds made up.”
And there it was. The crossroads. I was dog-tired, and in no mood to hear about the latest mad caper solved by yet another loveable puppy with super powers. And, of course, I knew that Emma’s education wasn’t going to suffer from taking a night off from the reading requirement.
But there were different stakes to consider, much more important in the grand scheme of things. My kids are at an age where they want to be honest, to do the right thing, just because it’s what you do, period.
“Mommy, you forgot to put on your seatbelt!” “No, Daddy, that water bottle needs to be recycled."
It is a pure and innocent world view that, unfortunately, will be challenged in more ways than we can count as the years go by. When they are older, and the stakes are much higher, the consequences far greater, I’ll be begging them to do the right thing. The very best thing I can do for them now is to foster those natural feelings of wanting to be good — no matter how tired I am, no matter how much more time it will take.
I told Emma she had reminded me of a very important lesson that night. She smiled widely, not having to ask what she’d done.
And then, we read about the super hero puppy that solves all the world’s problems.
Jennifer Joyner is a mom of two, freelance writer and WRAL-TV assignment editor in Fayetteville. Her food obsession memoir, “Designated Fat Girl,” came out in 2010. Find her here on Wednesdays.