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Things we teach kids, and they teach back at us

So we were having our semi-monthly veracity talk with one of our offspring. You know the one: It’s not the wrong thing that you did that’s the real problem — it’s the fact that you lied about the wrong thing you did. The wrong thing you did would have wasted 30 seconds of you confessing and us telling you to do it right. The lie you told about the wrong thing you did has derailed our entire evening.

You know the drill.

Then the lesson came right back at me.

So to recap: Last week we started out the week with swine flu in our midst. Son, 10, was vaccinated and then 5 days later exposed. He came down with a mild case. (It takes ten days for the vaccination to reach full strength. Read flu facts here.) 2 days after that, husband got sick. Son was mildly sick. Husband was can’t-get-out-of-bed, gimme Tamiflu sick.

Daughter 6 had been fully immunized because, ironically, it was easier to get an immunization for a healthy child (who could get the nasal, “live” vaccine) than a kid with asthma (who was required to get the shot). So daughter didn’t get the flu. I have never gotten the flu so far in life, as far as I noticed, so I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get it. (I said this to another mom and she warned, Knock on wood, Suki!)

Knock on wood!

So along we go with our week, and daughter and I go out and take part in our usual activities because, it is clear, we are not going to get sick. Son goes back to school. Husband slowly recovers. All seems well.

Then our daughter gets a little cough Friday afternoon. Then in the evening, a fever.

Back to the veracity problem. I went to bed wracked with feelings of guilt. I was sure that she wasn’t going to get the flu! Could I hide her for the next week? Did I really have to tell everyone that we’d been around? Darn it, she’d roller-skated with The Whole School that afternoon.

To make a long story short, my daughter does not have the flu, doctor-certified. Common cold, bit of a cough, little bit of a recurring fever. But the point is, right after an evening lecturing my son, I was presented with that very situation, in a grown-up way. I was going to have to admit that I’d made a mistake, and my first instinct was to figure out how I could avoid that.

But I have learned that lesson, and I knew I was going to ignore my first instinct. I practiced the e-mail while waiting in the doctor’s reception area. “Dear friends, I know that I told you that we weren’t going to give you the flu, but…”

I was telling a friend at my daughter’s school this today, and she said, “How embarrassing that would be!” Yes, indeed. But I would have grit my teeth and done it. And that, in a nutshell, is the lesson. Not that doing the right thing feels good, but that sometimes it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing and we spend a lot of mental energy trying to wiggle our way out of it. But we know that in the end, it will be better.

A few minutes of truth, vs. all the unforeseen outcomes of the lie. 30 seconds redoing the task the right way. An entire evening hashing out the reasons for telling the truth.

I’ll probably talk to said unveracious child (yeah, I know that’s not a word, but I like it) about this. I do think that we parents can teach our kids a lot by screwing up and then talking about it. Or realizing that you were in a situation in which you really want to do the wrong thing and you know you have to do the right thing anyway.

“Yes, officer, I do realize that I was speeding, but you shoulda heard what was on the radio…”

We teach kids, then they teach back at us. It’s a viscous circle, slippery and rife with occasions to slip up. And here we go again…

Posted in Health, Parenting.

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