When I was a little girl – probably about five or six years old – I did something bad. I got really sick – I had Scarlet fever – and I had to take a lot of medication. But I didn’t like taking medicine, so when my parents weren’t looking, I poured my antibiotic into a napkin and threw it away. I did that twice a day for several days. I didn’t like the taste of the Tylenol I had to chew either, so when my parents weren’t looking, I hid those pills under a couch cushion. I did that three to four times a day for several days.
I told you it was bad. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t like the taste of the medicine, and I was too young to understand that without treatment I could have developed rheumatic fever, liver and kidney damage, meningitis, or worse.
One day, my mom discovered my Tylenol stash. Soon after, she figured out what I was doing with the napkins in the trash. I don’t remember a lot of yelling or any cruel and unusual punishment (besides the excruciating wait for my dad to get home from work that afternoon), but I know my poor, mortified mom had to call the doctor and explain what happened and get new prescriptions filled, and from that day forward, I had to take all forms of medicine under strict adult supervision. I also remember my dad telling me a gazillion times that his job as my parent was to teach me the difference between right and wrong. He said that a lot.
Not surprisingly, I righteously spout this moral mission statement to Dylan and Riley all the time. (Note to new parents: No matter how hard you fight it, you will turn into your parents.) Recently, my Dad reminded me that there was a second part to the creed that I had forgotten. He said, “My job was to teach you the difference between right and wrong and to recognize when you actually did something wrong.” Like when I systematically disposed of my life-saving penicillin. I knew it was wrong each and every time I did it.
I was reminded of my childhood pharmaceutical fiasco the other night when Dylan lied to our babysitter. Let me just say, Dylan is an honest kid. Sometimes he’ll say that he washed his hands after going to the bathroom when he really didn’t, but other than that, his moral compass is pretty darn exceptional. So, here’s what happened. He told our babysitter that he ate the orange wedges on his dinner plate, but he didn’t really eat them. Instead, he threw them in the garbage while she was cleaning up a pee accident in the bathroom (Riley!). When she eventually figured it out, he cried. And cried. And cried. It took our babysitter a half hour to get him to stop crying. He knew he had done something wrong.
The boys were in bed but still awake when I got home, so after our babysitter left, I went in to kiss them goodnight and to ask Dylan about the orange incident. As soon as the words slipped out of my mouth, he sobbed all over again. He knew. I told him I loved him and that I wanted him to always tell the truth. He said, “Okay,” and then he fell asleep. I guess all that right and wrong mumbo-jumbo works. (Thanks, Dad.)
Did your parents have a moral mission statement? Do you?