You know that thing they say about the youngest child in a family? That thing about how that child gets away with murder because he’s the youngest and the parents aren’t ready to not have a baby anymore? About how the baby of the family has the parents wrapped around his little finger even when he’s well past the age where it’s appropriate?
I really thought we were smarter than that. I thought that only happened in families where the parents were weak and self-involved. Why would anyone with an ounce of parenting abilities relax their standards merely for their own insecurities about their children growing up and leaving the nest? Not us, that’s for sure.
But, you know, our youngest still is kind of a baby. He’s not even four yet. He still gets nightmares and sleeps with us sometimes. He still sucks his thumb. I still occasionally carry him around on my hip. None of that is because he’s the youngest, though, it’s because he is young. Right? You have to treat younger children differently from the older ones. A 3 year old doesn’t have the cognitive reasoning ability of an adult, or even of an 11 year old. When a child is that young, he’s not doing it intentionally, so sometimes he gets a pass.
Yeah, that’s what I thought until yesterday afternoon.
Montessori Teacher when I picked Jonas up yesterday: So Jonas had a rough time today. He had to sit in timeout for awhile because he emptied all of the soap from the hand soap containers in both the girls bathroom and the boys bathroom and refilled them with water.
Me: Oh geez, I’m so sorry, that’s not OK. I’ll talk to him.
Montessori Teacher: Well and the big problem is that one of the other teachers saw him doing it, but then he lied about it.
Me: Oh no, definitely not acceptable. I will absolutely discuss it with him tonight. (Silently thanking my lucky stars he didn’t pee in the containers to refill them like his older brother did once with the empty shampoo container.)
Me, after we got home, while I’m making dinner: Jonas, we need to talk about what happened today at school. I was told by your teacher you emptied the soap out of the dispensers. You know that’s not OK. We’ve discussed it probably 800 times at home.
Jonas: I’m having a ‘rough time’. (He might as well have actually used air quotes. Apparently his teacher regularly uses this phrase instead of telling kids’ parents he or she is ‘acting like an asshole’. This was where I started to get a clue that he’s been listening more often than I give him credit for.)
Me: You’re not having a rough time. You were being a bad boy. Why would you do that?
Jonas: It wasn’t me that emptied them. It was Tyler. I was washing my hands and then he came in and emptied the soap out and then he went to the girl’s bathroom and emptied the soap there too.
Me: Jonas, your teacher saw you do it. I know it wasn’t Tyler.What you’re doing is lying. (Still thinking I’m teaching him lessons maybe he doesn’t know about.)
Jonas: I’m not lying. It was Tyler. (Looking at me with wide, earnest eyes. At this point I really started to wonder if maybe he was falsely accused.)
Me: Well if it was really Tyler, then I think I need to speak with Tyler and his mom about this tomorrow. And then his mom will punish him and he’ll get in huge trouble for emptying out the soap container. Does that sound OK to you? (Appealing to his sense of guilt over getting his friend in trouble for something he did, if he did it, and at the same time trying to support him if he hadn’t done it.)
Jonas: Yes, that sounds good to me. It was Tyler. He should get in trouble.
Me: OK… well then I guess I’ll talk to his mom and Tyler and your teachers tomorrow morning and we’ll figure this all out.
Jonas: He’ll tell you it wasn’t him. He’s a liar. (Yeah, he did it. He was clearly thinking this through, covering his bases. Note to any future gang members looking to recruit my son for criminal activities: he will sell you down the river so fast your head will spin. No loyalty here; move along.)
Me: When a good kid does something bad, he admits that he did it and apologizes. Maybe ‘Tyler’ will confess and apologize. (Giving him an opportunity to be the ‘good kid’.)
Jonas: He’s not a good kid. He hits my friends. He’ll tell you it wasn’t him. (Dropping that olive branch like a hot rock.)
Me: OK, well then I guess we’ll just have to talk to Tyler and his mom tomorrow and I’ll explain to him that you definitely didn’t do it and that you saw Tyler doing it.
Jonas: You don’t know where he lives. (Seeing now, that this could turn into an ugly confrontation tomorrow.)
Me: I’m going to see them at your school tomorrow. (Sensing his fear. Closing in on my prey.)
Jonas: He doesn’t go to my school anymore. Today was his last day. (And his own tangled web of deception begins to slowly suffocate him.)
Me: Jonas… I think you need to think very hard about this. I’m going to find out what really happened. I’m going to speak to Tyler and his mom and your teachers, regardless of where I have to go to find them. If it turns out it was you who emptied the soap dispensers and you didn’t tell me the truth and apologize to me and to your teachers, then I think we’re going to have to have a discussion about your birthday party next month and whether or not you deserve to have one.
Jonas, color draining from his face, eyes big as dinner plates: It was me. I emptied the soap. In the boys bathroom and the girls. I don’t know why I did it.
Me, the next day to his teacher after Jonas has confessed and apologized and run off to put away his lunch box: He tried to tell me some long involved story about how Tyler did it.
Montessori Teacher: Tyler? We don’t even have a Tyler.
I think my baby might be more grown up than I thought. It’s also possible he’s been sneaking down in the middle of the night to watch Fight Club on Netflix.