Yesterday Jabber came home from kindergarten with terrible news. His clip--that mythical clothespin with his name on it that hangs from the stoplight near the kindergarten door--had been moved from green to yellow. Yellow as in caution, danger, slow down, watch out! I asked him why his clip was moved and listened skeptically through the rash of protests--"It wasn't my fault" and "I didn't know..." -- to find the real story. Well, the germ of truth that may be the real story. The rest is conjecture, I suppose, but I know my son, and I know classrooms, and I can only guess that what actually happened probably involved a lack of listening and a surplus of silliness.
Anyway, I told him that this morning when we got to my classroom he could write a note to his teacher explaining the correct way to behave in the classroom. However, this morning was a rush of getting ready for a billion other things that were going on at school, so we ran out of time for Jabber to write his note.
This evening I asked him if his clip stayed on green. He claimed that it was going to stay on yellow until Monday but that he stayed off red. Not sure if it's normal for it to stay on yellow or if he was having issues with his behavior today, too, and I know I wouldn't get a straight answer out of him even if he tried to tell me, so I let it go. I didn't say anything about the note, but he remembered it and said, "We don't have to worry about writing that note to Ms. C. because I found some time today in class and wrote one to her already."
At this point, if he had left it at that, I may have actually believed him. He's a pretty nice kid overall, and I don't think he gets a charge out of misbehaving, really. Also, he is super, duper fond of Ms. C. and would be devastated if he thought she was upset with him for any amount of time. So it's conceivable that he would have written a little note.
But he kept on talking.
"Yeah, I wrote, 'Dear Ms. C., I'm very sorry for talking with my friend T. when I should have been writing my name on my paper instead. I will listen very carefully from now on. So I will be a good listener during reading class and all the time. From Jabber.' and then I gave it to her." He paused, and at this point I was getting a little suspicious. My kindergartener is getting better and better at composing his own writing, but that seemed a little wordy even so. Still, he talked on.
"Yeah, so I gave her that note already, so we don't really have to write another one this weekend. She saw the note and stuff, and I'm pretty sure my clip will go back to green on Monday, and I had a chance to write that note because we had some time. During class." He paused. "When we had some free time. That's when I wrote it. My note. That she already saw."
Now I was really suspicious, but I didn't show it. "Oh, good," I said. "When I send her an email on Monday, I'll tell her that we talked about the apology letter you wrote for her, and that you're sure you can do like you promised." I didn't look up from my dinner plate.
A small pause.
"You can just say my apology," he said. "Not my apology letter." He pushed the cereal around in his bowl with the tip of his spoon. "She'll know what you mean."
"Oh, well, I think I'll say 'apology letter', actually. I like being specific."
A longer pause. More cereal pushing.
"Mom?" Tiny voice.
I looked up.
"Did you ever think something in your brain, but then your mouth got it wrong? I got it confused in my head. See, I meant to say that I was going to write the letter this weekend--here, at home. And then I accidentally found my mouth saying that it happened already at school. I got mixed up. I mean, sometimes you think one thing, but you say another." He tried for a super innocent facial expression. "Does that ever happen to you, Mom?"
And like, I think I made my point, really, which was...well, I guess my point was that he should know I'm always going to get to the bottom of things and he can't get away with telling me lies. But here's the thing. I'm not always going to have that inside scoop that comes with knowing his teacher. I'm not always going to catch on that he's not telling the truth--especially when he figures out the trick of not over-sharing. He's going to lie to me; I'm not going to catch every one.
And he'll get better at lying in order to get better at not getting caught. Because it's embarrassing to be caught in a lie.
So I didn't really know what to say right then. I can hear my own mom saying the old stand-by: I'm not upset about what you did as much as I'm upset that you lied about it. But let's face it: I'm upset that he got in trouble at school AND I'm upset that he lied to get out of part of the consequence of it. So I just said, "Yeah, sometimes my brain says one thing and my mouth says another. And sometimes my brain tries to figure out a way to avoid something uncomfortable, so it tells my mouth to say things that aren't exactly true, just to make it easier on me."
He nodded. "Yeah, I guess that's what my brain did."
"Yeah. And that works for a little while, but it's not really respectful of the other person, who deserves to get the truth from you. And if they find out about the truth, then it gets really complicated trying to get yourself out of what you just said."
He sighed, and his eyes had tears in them. "Yeah. It gets really complicated."
I went back to eating. "Lots more complicated than telling the truth."
He ate a scoop of his cereal, the tears receding. "I'll write that letter tomorrow, Mom."
I smiled. "That sounds great, Jabber." And he smiled, too.