Ancient History

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Earlier this week, one of my children got into trouble at school. Two days of community service and one day of detention were required as punishment.

I found out during my daily backpack dive. After school I line up the four backpacks, unzip, and begin an expedition into the recent past. Like an anthropologist, I have to use clues to discern what kind of day it was. The uneaten apple and half-smashed remains of a cheese sandwich tell me Sam hurried through lunch, again. The book flyers promise someone is going to hound me to write a check soon, payable to Scholastic.

In one of the backpacks, hiding between a folder and a notebook, was an Incident Report. I do not like incidents. There is no such thing as a good incident. Have you ever heard of the “Free Chocolate Cake Incident”? No, you hear of a “Drove Off With My Groceries Still In The Cart Incident”.

As I read through the incident report, I found myself utterly shocked, angry, and embarrassed. It is the worst thing this child has done. I showed my husband, who was equally angered. We knew we needed to calm down, decide what we were going to say, and take our time coming up with the punishment. In the heat of the moment, you want to send the child to live with Britney Spears. Calmer heads prevailed, however, when we confronted the child.

There were many tears, explanations, apologies given. We knew the child knew better and we discerned the I’m sorry was sincere.

The child had to write letters of apology. We told the child they were to serve the school’s punishment with a positive attitude, mindful the consequences could have been much worse. We prayed together, affirmed our love, warned our punishment was undecided but inevitable.

Several hours later I was still bothered by what the child did. I cried. Then I cried even harder when I realized what had me so upset.

Of course my child’s actions made me sad—for the child. Having a bad reputation is a slippery thing to overcome, and it will take awhile for others to regain trust. I felt like a terrible mom who somehow failed to teach a vital moral lesson. But it embarrasses me to admit I was upset because other people—the teacher, the principal, other adults and children involved—would see me in a negative light. My child, for sure. But me. I’m now The Mom of the Bad Kid.

It is odd and painful that I can’t remove myself from this and see my child as a maturing individual accountable for making a mistake. It showed me I can fill my child’s head and heart with good things, but they have every right to reject it. They have free will to make choices. Some of the choices will be bad mistakes. Why should I be surprised?

There will be incidents.

I recently attended the “Women of Faith” conference at the Pepsi Center in Denver. One of the speakers was Carol Kent. Her son grew up as any parent would dream—class president, valedictorian, Naval Academy graduate, well-respected in every way. But he is currently serving a life sentence without parole for first-degree murder. He is her only child.

Remembering the words she said about the nightmare her family endured gave me much needed perspective. I’m not living a nightmare. It’s called life and people screw up. The future is bright for my child, loved so dearly I ache. Yes, it was bad, but we can move on. The start smells fresh and is dyed a shade of yellow.

The canary copy of the incident report is ours to keep. Thanks.

The pink copy is for the teacher.

The white copy is for the office.

That is all. Three copies of what happened that day would be filed away, eventually forgotten, forgiven.

22 comments to Incident

  • We have “incidents” in our parenting career to and I have struggled with the same feelings—what would people think of us as parents. Honestly, it has only been over the last couple of years that I am just completely letting that go in a number of areas.

    One area is the way my daughter dresses. She dresses modestly, but her clothes have a sort-of punk/mod flair and some people find that disturbing. These days I feel comfortable with that and I think that if someone doesn’t want to take the time to get to know her, that is their loss.

    I know that my example is a bit off topic, but the whole “what will people think of me a parent” thing spills into a lot of areas for me.

    This incident with your son will be an opportunity for you to teach him and give him direction and to learn the value of a good reputation. This is what parenting is all about!

  • Sister-of-Mopsy

    This topic is close to my heart. Coming from the child that has caused many many, “incidents”, “incidents” that could go into the ‘Guinness Book of “Incidents” Worlds Records’, wellllll into my 20’s…. errrrr …. actually I had an incident last week involving an argument with a man in the Lowes parking lot (too many words exchanged which never should have been exchanged over something totally forgettable and stupid, and I’m 33! Open mouth, Insert soap) are still occurring today…

    The most comforting thought is that we do indeed learn lessons from incidence, hopefully not to repeat history, hopefully the reaction of our teachers, parents, friends and own self was so embarrassing/shameful that we would never consider doing THAT again. The thought “What was I thinking????” has crossed my mind and probably everyone who reads this post several times over. We all have been involved in incidence. It’s part of who we are as imperfect humans. Its how we learn and grow, “I guess getting mad when a guy flips me off in the parking lot and then calling him a ‘BLEEP’ to his face which then provoked him to unleash a tornado of curse words on me… probably wasn’t such a good idea”. Day ruined (my punishment), Chances are I won’t make comment to someone so ‘flippant’ (no pun intended) with their middle finger again so not to ruin a perfectly beautiful day (Lesson Learned).

    Don’t be so hard on yourself sis, its natural to want your children to be incident free, to never do bad things, but the truth is, they do and they will again. It’s parents like you and Lee that listen, try to understand ‘the why’, through love and understanding and the dreaded punishment they receive, they WILL learn and next time they will pause and think first about their past experience and do they want to do THAT again???? Hopefully not.

  • Thanks for this vulnerable post. You exposed your own response while discreetly keeping your son’s specific “incident” unknown.

    We are not our children–their actions and choices are their own–and yet we’re linked to them; in some ways, they are our life’s work.

    I can understand the feeling. Totally.

    Just as you concluded, however, what felt so overwhelming today will one day be forgotten.


    Or maybe it’ll be one of those defining moments in his life that he’ll never forget, that will keep him making *right* choices in the future.

    Nobody tells the young couple contemplating parenthood about days like this, do they?

  • Last night I dreamed that our pastor’s wife pulled me to the side and said she did not approve of the behavior of one of my sons during Sunday School. I was mortified, even after I woke up. Even though I knew it was a dream. So I can totally understand those feelings! But, you know, even God’s children mess up!


    Mary, mom to 10

  • Jenn

    You know we’ve been down that road a few times now. I’m pretty sure I know exactly how you’re feeling right now. HUGE hugs, my friend. I’ll give you a call tomorrow.

  • I think we’ve all been there. I feel for you, though. It’s hard to separate ourselves from our kids’ actions.
    It sounds like you two handled it wonderfully.
    And it’s very brave of you to share.

  • i’m glad you posted that. i think it will stick with me when the day comes when my kids mess up. when i think about the grief i caused my own parents i know i have my share coming.

    i think that that women of faith conference came at the right time for you and was just what you needed.

  • Amy

    I’m sorry about your day! 🙁 Thanks for the comment! We’re very excited about our new little girl!

  • Wow…My oldest is only three, and already I take his misbehavior as a sign of my failure as a mom. I have to remind myself that I have bad days and make mistakes, and so will he, no matter how well I do my job.

    Don’t you just wish they had a little less free choice sometimes? It’s scary how much of their life is left in their own hands, their own decisions to make.

    It reminds me to let them learn to be strong on their own, without my help.

  • I know it’s kind of a joke, but I like to remember that even though God was the Perfect Parent and Adam and Eve were in the Perfect Situation, they still chose wrongly. How can we expect to escape the Incidents if He didn’t?

    (((HUGS))) Mopsy…I’ve been there too, and I know the feeling!

  • Speaking as THE TEACHER . . . I can add some reassurance that probably the teachers are not blaming you at all. We see so many incidents (and guaranteed there are MANY worse than whatever unnamed child did) and so many mortified parents . . . the fact is, school is another world, and children do not often behave there as their parents expect. The quietest at home are chatters; the hyper at home are silent; parents are befuddled. It’s a relatively safe arena for your children to experiment with their personalities and discover who they are and what they will do with greater independence and anonymity. But, speaking as THE TEACHER, I can also tell you that most teachers love the children in the school regardless of what they do, just as parents do, and that they merely sympathize. They are not setting up flow charts about your parenting mistakes.

  • mopsy

    Thanks everyone for you comments!

    I appreciate your perspective, Inkling. I bet a lot of other moms do too. I realize teachers aren’t out to bust kids for wrongdoing, and they don’t keep score.

  • A very well-written and moving post.

  • Ann

    It sounds like might be a more serious incident (I’m so sorry!) What bothers me so much is that you were notified through an incident report, a piece of paper that will probably be put in your child’s file. No phone call from the teacher or principal even if it’s just to say, “I need to tell you that your child is bringing home an incident report. Here’s what happened…” You had to find out by “surprise” when you checked backpacks. Good thing you check your children’s backpacks regularly, many parents don’t. Your child would have probably told you about it if you hadn’t found the slip,though

    I would want to hear it from my child’s teacher first. I suppose I see it more as a guesture to show the teacher is concerned and cares about the well-being of the child. It just seems so cold and disconnected for the teacher to write it out and send it home. Maybe in thinking that, I would just be trying to push my hurt/anger onto the teacher…I don’t know.

    But you looked at it in a much more positive light, that it will be filed away, forgotten and forgiven. There’s nothing your baby could do to make you love him/her less 🙂

  • Rae

    I’ve been thinking a lot about future “incidents” lately. Your post helped me to realize that we’ll get through it when they come. And I think that possibly the most learning-rich part of the experience came for your child in your dealing with what happened. They learned safety, love, consequences, all of the things that you wrote about. You’re doing great.

  • Ouch. Parenting moments that hurt. You’re doing a terrific job! The way you describe how you handled everything sounds just right. What understanding and forgiving parents you are.

  • Pattie

    Thank you so much for your post.It proves to me that we are not alone.Mothers of HUMAN children.
    A reminder that incidents happen in our lives with our children.
    My daughter had an incident this week as well.I felt so overwelmed by it.Your post gives me great comfort when I really needed some.
    thank you

  • JoAnn


    Hugs. Your writing is just so good. I actually had a tough time reading about the incident, and felt similiar feelings in my gut.

    Thanks again for writing your raw feelings, and letting us come in.

    Your parenting is something I strive for….your patience, and understanding, and positiveness….something that is so hard to do in parenting.


  • What a truly great post, Gretchen.

    Thank you for your honesty and reminding us all to not be so hard on ourselves when our children disappoint…. which they inevitably always do at least once or twice.

  • edj

    It’s funny how much I care about how my kids’ teachers view me. I wrestle with this too. (And thanks, Inkling, for sharing the teacher’s POV!) This was such an honest post–I really appreciated it. I’m so glad that your child was repentant and I hope s/he learns from this. We’re all still in process, as I was reminded this weekend on a women’s retreat.

  • As a parent of the “bad kids” at a small private Christian school I can definitely understand the concerns you had. I know the looks I get from other parents and how some other parents don’t want their children to play with my children. People tend to forget that children are learning what we as adults already know. My children’s mistakes don’t reflect on my parenting skills. I don’t know everything as a parent just as my children don’t know everything. We are all learning together.

  • I’m glad I don’t have to carry around all the “incident” reports that I’ve deserved in my life. I would need a shopping cart. Forgiveness is a marvelous thing, but forgetting makes forgiveness divine. Excellent post and well-deserving of the Perfect Post award.

    Antique Mommy’s last blog post..How On Earth Did This Happen?

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