I thought I had shared this story before, but I can’t find it. It’s only a small part of a much bigger story, and I’ll tell that some other day. For today I shall limit myself to a small portion of the tale of one of the most, um, bizarre and disastrous days of our lives- the sort of disaster that looks hilarious in a movie, but isn’t actually that much fun to live through. But I learned an important lesson through this one particular episode in a series of disasters.
It was about 15 years ago. We lived in a large two story farm house on the edge of town. We had a lot of friends, including two other families very much like ours- lots of children, homeschoolers, etc. We spent a lot of time together. The other two families had several boys. Every time one of the families came to visit, I discovered our toddler bed taken apart, the screws neatly lined up on the floor next to the pieces. Or somebody would unscrew the faucet from our water dispenser. Or some of the children would scamper across the road to the junkyard and use the coal they found there to turn themselves into realistic looking slaves on the underground railroad. Or… you get the picture. Our combined total of 18 or more children had some major mischief makers amongst them. We knew who they were.
We also had two little girls in that group who were as good as gold. They were the little mothers, caring for the smaller children, always doing what they were told, almost never doing what they had been told not to do (unless they were led astray by older children). They were my Jenny, and the girl closest in age to her in the other family- essentially two middle children. Good children. Never caused their mama’s a moment’s worry.
One day, this terrible day, while my husband was out of state with the Air Force and I was trying to sell our house, we ended up having something like 40 something guests come by for a visit- including our combined 18 or more children, and quite a few children from the other families, too. Havoc was wreaked. As I said, I won’t go into all the details of all the things that went wrong. But at last everybody went home.
I was exhausted, worried about the house selling, missing my husband, drained, etc. So I sent the girls to tuck themselves in. Only my oldest two came back downstairs and said, “We can’t go to bed. Our bed is broken.”
Sounds like the Three Bears, only Goldilocks did less damage. The girls had one of those metal bunks where the bottom is a double and the top is a twin. The frame along one side of the double bed on the bottom was snapped in two and lying on the floor. The mattress hung cattywumpus from the cock-eyed frame. It didn’t really look safe for them to sleep on the top bunk, either. And mysteriously, nobody in my family knew what had happened. Well, I knew, of course. It was those boys. I just needed evidence. Witnesses.
I called one of the other three families and talked to their mom and asked her if she would ask her children if any of them had seen anything that day to explain what had happened to the bed. I interrogated my own offspring further. Nobody had seen anything at all. Innocence never looked so wide-eyed.
Then my friend called me back. Her oldest son had tearfully admitted that it must have been…..
Our pair of perfect little angels, our good as gold little darlings, the last two children anybody would have guessed.
Except that turned out to be precisely the guilty pair.
They had been watching gymnastics in the recent past. So they were jumping on the bottom bunk while holding on to the side rails of the top bunk, and then jumping hard enough to swing themselves up and over the top rail onto the top mattress, and then they would scramble down and do it again. My friend’s oldest son had asked them to stop. He pleaded. At one point he tried to shame them. They were wearing skirts, after all (they were about 7 years old, I believe). He warned them that they were showing their underwear.
“So?” they said, with a flounce and a flip over the top bunk. “You can leave, and then you won’t see our underwear.”
He did not want to tattle, so he left sadly, leaving those two famously well behaved good as gold girls to continue their process of breaking the bed.
My friend was shocked. So was I. We were in disbelief at one level even when the culprits confessed. We asked that useless question, “But… WHY?”
Silly of us, because of course, the girls had no idea why. It just seemed fun at the moment.
Never, ever, ever assume that it couldn’t possibly have been your child involved in a group of children where mischief and or mayhem have occurred, where havoc has been wreaked, where folly and foolishness have clearly been displayed and even reveled in. Never. Pride and falls and all that. You see, how well any child of yours behaves in your presence is no predictor of how well he behaves when you are not there. That child’s common sense, discernment, and ability to listen to that small voice that says, “Don’t. That would be such a dumb thing to do” when in a group of two is not a predictor of any of those things when that child is in a group of 8. Or 18. That voice is drowned out and squelched by the sheer noise level. Or the child is so excited by the groupthink that he grabs that voice by the throat and shoves it in the back closet of his mind, or what passes for his mind at that particular moment.
Furthermore, the amount of clear judgment, common sense, discernment, prudence, if you will, in any group of children is divided by the number of children in the room. Unfortunately, their creativity and ability to come up with bold, daring, unique, and utterly foolish ideas is multiplied by the same amount. So if you gave your most well-behaved child’s discernment factor a numerical level, and in every day life said child has a discernment level of 80, in a group of 8 children, the total discernment level in the room can be no more than 10. And that’s generous. It’s probably much, much less.