Monday, February 22, 2010

A New Era (part two)

I was thrown off-balance when Eli 8.6 didn't tell me he'd been sent to the principal. So sure-footed for years, but I knew right away that this was a new era.

In a way, though, I was relieved. I hadn't felt like I was very well-prepared to talk to him, because I hadn't had much time to think about how I wanted to frame the discussion. Plus, we were on our way to unicycle club, and it was going to be very hard to have a discussion (where I was sure he would be upset), then unicycle like nothing had happened.

So we unicycled at club and had a good time, as always. After that, we went home to take showers before we went to the Texas Stars hockey game. We had tickets on the glass, and we were both excited about sitting so close for the first time.

The longer Eli went without telling me, the less inclined I was to press him. Clearly, this was a big, whopper lie, and it seemed like the bigger hole he dug, the better our chances of getting him to understand how wrong it was to lie.

Sitting next to the glass at a hockey game is wonderful, even if there's a loudmouth woman sitting next to you who has a child that is totally unable of controlling himself and would be better off in a straitjacket.

I digress.

During warm-ups, while there were a bunch of other kids pounding the glass demanding pucks, Eli just stood by the glass and watched. He didn't even move. It was like that scene in The Natural where Glenn Close stands up in the bleachers and she's bathed in light.

Then Greg Rallo skated by and flipped a puck over the glass to Eli. Not all the glass pounding kids, not the yelling kids.

See, I told you it was like The Natural.
It was awesome. Actually, it was beyond awesome. Eli's face lit up like it was the best present he'd ever gotten, and in a way, it was. Believe me, Greg Rallo has two fans for life now.

During the game, I noticed that Eli didn't seem to be enjoying himself as much as he was last time, even though we both agreed that being on the glass was fantastic. I also noticed that he was coughing a little, and that usually means that he's getting sick.

We got home very late (about 10:15, and his bedtime on non-school night is 9:00), so he brushed his teeth and went to bed. He was barely even awake, so I didn't think he would tell us anything until the morning.

He would tell us in the morning, right?

Nope. Not a word. Saturday afternoon, he was going over to his best friend's house for his first sleepover, which was a big deal. All right, little man, I'll let you keep digging that hole because I love you, and I want to help you learn a lesson before it has a bad effect on your life later.

It hurt, though. It made me sad in a way that I don't ever feel. I wanted to rewind to Friday and give him another chance to tell me, but I couldn't. It was already done.

We were going to ride on Sunday, and I was looking forward to it, but when he came back from his friend's house about noon, I could tell he wasn't right physically. His coughing was significantly worse, and he looked exhausted (he was, because they'd stayed up really late, which is what you do when you have a sleepover).

Great. It's been three days now, he still hasn't told us, and now he's sick.

I went ahead and rode on my own, still a little sick myself, and even on a 2.5 mile trail ride that was only modestly difficult, but my lungs burned like they were on fire. I was trying to unicycle carrying a refrigerator on my back. I was hoping that I would lose my balance and have to step off just so I would have an excuse for walking the rest of the way.

I didn't.

I thought about Eli, of course, and I realized something about our relationship: it had never been bittersweet, at least not after I'd gotten over the initial shock of fatherhood (which took a couple of years, really). Since then, It had been one big sugar rush, doing all kinds of awesome things together and genuinely enjoying each other's company. I'd never had such a happy, joyful relationship.

Now, it was going to get hard.

Sunday night? Not a word. I had agreed with Gloria that we would have to ask him on Monday (President's Day, and he was off from school), because we had to address it before he went back to school on Tuesday. I couldn't sleep that night, anxious and worried about our little man and what kind of lies he was telling himself in order to justify not being honest with us. Afraid, too, of how I would handle this, and whether I would start failing just when he needed me most.

On Monday morning, there was no question that he was sick. Some kind of virus, probably, and his cough was steady (it had woken him up on Sunday night for about half an hour). He was on the couch on Monday, looking tired.

I couldn't imagine what he was feeling. Had he just compartmentalized what happened to the degree that it didn't bother him at all? Did he feel awful but felt like he couldn't tell us because he'd waited so long?

"Little man, we need to talk about something," I said, "and I want you to try to stay calm, because it's very important that you hear what we're saying."

"Okay," he said, and I think he had an idea what was coming.

"We know about you being sent to the principal's office," I said, "and we know that part of you making amends was to tell us what happened."

Tears started rolling quietly down his cheeks.

"Help us understand why you didn't tell us," I said.

"I knew that you guys would be SO mad," he said.

"When have I ever been mad at you?" I asked.

"Well, not MAD," he said, "but disappointed."

"Little man, we don't stop loving you if we're disappointed," I said. "We don't love you any less. And when you tell us the truth, when you give us good data, we can help you. But it has to be the truth."

"I know," he said. "I am so, so sorry." He's still crying.

"I know you want us to be proud of you," I said. "But I also want you to be proud of yourself. That's even more important. I want you to make good decisions for yourself, not for us. Does that make sense?"

"Yes," he said.

What were you feeling when you let those kids into the computer lab?" I asked.

"It was kind of exciting," he said.

"Sometimes you do feel kind of excited when you do something wrong," I said. "Now tell me--did the excitement feel better than it felt bad to be in the principal's office?"

"Oh, no," he said. "That was HORRIBLE. I felt so bad."

"Here's what happens when people lie," I said. "They always believe that one more lie can get them out of trouble, even if lying got them into trouble to start with. And lying is a little exciting, because it's wrong. So they tell a lie, then another one, and even after all those other lies didn't work out, they still believe that the next one will solve all their problems. Do you see how lying to us is a much bigger deal than what happened at school?

"Yes," he said.

"Letting those kids into the computer room was bad judgment. It was a bad decision. But you made it in just a few seconds. Not telling us, though, meant that you had to decide to lie to us, then you had to decide to keep lying. It wasn't just one bad decision--it was a bad decision over and over again."

"I know," he said. "I'm done with lying."

"This is your punishment," I said, "and this is punishment for lying to us, not for what happened to school. No t.v., video games, or computer for five days."

"Okay," he said. "Dad, I am so sorry."

"I know you are, little man," I said, hugging him. "We love you very much, and we always will. We'll start the five days tomorrow."

"No, let's start them now," he said. "I don't even want to watch t.v."

I called it "serving a suspension," to put it into sports terms, and he didn't complain once. It was hard, because we were all constantly reminded of what had happened, and I can't stand to punish him--now that I think if it, I've never even needed to before.

I don't think he'll stop lying because of this--lying becomes a habit as much as a choice--but I do think he'll be more conscious of what he's doing. I'm kind of looking at this like drug rehab. I've always read that even if rehab doesn't work for a person the first time, it slightly increases the chances that it will work the next time. Cumulative potential, of a sort.

I'm hoping it's like that for Eli 8.6. It's going to be very hard for him to stop lying, and maybe it won't work this time, but if we're consistent, I hope that we can help him understand over time how many problems lying will cause in his life, and how easy it is to tell the truth.

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