What could go wrong?
I remember my first big fib. I was in sixth grade, attending a religious private school (this is a story in and of itself! I arrived halfway through the year because of a verbally abusive teacher at my previous school, and I also didn’t opt to return to the private school in the following years.)
A good friend of mine also went there, which is how my parents heard about it. Admittedly, he was the only reason I had any desire to attend. We were great friends, and I have a lot of fond childhood memories with him.
One day we came up with a scheme to get out of school for a day: we were going to tell our parents that there was a no-school day coming up. I wish I could remember if we came up with a specific name or reason for our “no school day”… I’m not sure we thought that far ahead.
And to give you an idea of how often we lied to our parents as kids, both of our parents took this in stride and without too many questions. I remember informing my parents of the “free day,” they took it in stride, and after that, it was smooth sailing.
I couldn’t believe it. Our plan had worked!
I was so satisfied. I mean, how could I not be? A sixth-grader who managed to actually evade a day of school, trick his parents, and seemingly get away with it?…talk about ideal.
And the icing on the cake was that my dad offered to take me to work, which meant I’d get the chance to earn a little extra money. (My dad used to lay carpet, and since I was around twelve or so, he’d bring me sometimes to help clean, prep, sweep, or other basic functions that helped him and his employees work.)
Things couldn’t get any better.
The day arrived. I woke up. I got ready to go to work and spend time with my dad. We get in the truck. It’s all really happened. I still haven’t been caught. Dad and I arrive at the building. I start cruising around on the floors scraping stuff up and making sure things look great for the next step.
My dad receives a phone call.
I watch his demeanor change.
My breath stops, and I know what’s coming.
He hangs up the phone, looks at me, and asks, “Did you really have school today? Did you lie to your mother and me?”
I don’t remember what I said, or if I said something.
“That was Vickie (my friend’s mom. I changed her name.), and she just told me that you and Dave (my friend. Again, I changed his name.) had this planned.”
I was caught, and my father was furious.
In short order, we were back in the car and on the way home. I don’t remember much of that ride, or even if we talked a lot. I do remember how sad and disappointed I was at being caught and seeing how big an impact it had created. I had honestly never imagined that lying like this would be such a big deal.
With that last thought in mind, I can still hear vividly something my dad said that really hit home what I’d done. “Don’t you know that I can get in a lot of trouble for this? For bringing you to work with me when you’re supposed to be in school? Your mother and I could find ourselves in hot water, son.”
I was floored. As if the idea that a lie to get out of school would be wrong to a twelve-year-old boy, the concept of my actions having harmed, or potentially damaging, someone else didn’t even exist until then.
Now I was genuinely ashamed. I love my parents with all my heart and never had/have either of them abused or harmed me in any way, shape, or form in my life. And here I was learning that my selfishness could have cost them dearly… I’d have to be much older to truly understand what my dad was referencing. But at that moment, all I had to do was look at my father and see how conflicted and worried he was by everything.
Lesson number one. Our actions affect more than just ourselves.
It wasn’t long before we were home, I changed clothes, got my school stuff, and walked into the classroom with a heavy head and sat at my desk. I remember seeing my friend already there, and he gave me a solemn look when I entered. I was grateful that no one at the school made a big deal out of it. To this day, I’m not sure if anyone other than my family and friend’s family found out about our scheme.
Either way, it tremendously exploded in my face.
Later I would learn that my friend had changed his mind at the last minute, unable to go through with the plan. He made the right choice in telling his mom, which is how she knew to contact my parents.
When I learned this, at first, I was mad at my friend for ditching me. We’d planned this together, and I had to learn through third-party channels that he couldn’t go through with it. However, it didn’t take long for me to squash any anger or resentment and acknowledge that he’d done the right thing. I’m glad he had the courage, to tell the truth.
Lesson number two. Severe actions have severe consequences. Most of the time, the consequence is plural.
When I got home from school, I learned that I was going to be punished for my actions. I was prepared for that, and initially willing to accept it. When my parents told me I’d be grounded for a week, I flipped out.
“A week! That’s way too long! I admit that I lied, but is it really that serious?” I yelled. To say that I felt the punishment did not fit the crime was an understatement. But, my parents stuck to their guns. Not only was I grounded from time with friends, but I was limited to what I could do at the house. Chores and work, however, became heavily encouraged.
Lesson number three. Not all consequences are material. The mental and emotional ones run the deepest and are the hardest to repair.
My young mind was ablaze with new thoughts, and my heart became entrenched with a host of new emotions. Why had this lie created such a commotion? Wasn’t I still the same person I was before? I know I didn’t mean any harm or foul play with my intent, so what’s the big deal?
But no matter how many questions I asked, or how I thought to reinforce or defend my position, I couldn’t mistake the looks I saw on my family’s and friend’s faces, and I couldn’t ignore how the whole ordeal made me feel.
Regardless of my intent, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wrongness about it, and I hated how people started reacting to me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t like the consequences of such a choice, and I hated that I’d lost trust and respect from my parents.
None of that was worth one day of no school and a little money.
During that week, I applied myself to every punishment required of me. I needed to show my family that I was sorry, but I also needed to understand that redemption was possible. I’m so grateful that I grew up with the parents I had because they also believed in discipline, love, and forgiveness.
After the week’s grounding expired, I made it my mission to work past it and effectively regain the trust and respect I’d lost. I learned to value honesty and hard work over entitlement and manipulation. By the time I’d made it to high school, I’d more than returned to my parents’ good graces. I worked hard to provide for myself, get my work done, and in return, experienced a profound amount of freedom and autonomy.
Granted, I was still a stupid teenager who needed looking after, but because of my big lie, something much more grand had been introduced into my life.
I don’t like hurting the people I care about. I don’t like hurting the people I love. I recognize that there are levels, balances, and boundaries to any relationship, but I can’t ignore that my actions do have consequences outside of my own life.
While I’m not able to plan or prepare for them entirely, I have chosen to live my life such that I don’t have to rely on the negative to get what I want, because I’ve seen what it does. Opposing that thought are the positive implementations and procedures that have shown me much more significant results and leave a better imprint and aftertaste.
Have I lied since I was twelve? Absolutely. I’m under no pretense of believing some “holier than though” egotism. On the contrary, I’ve actually developed the attitude of first thinking I’m in the wrong, so what do I need to change about myself?
Have I hurt people I love and care for since I was twelve? Yes, sadly. I’m divorced, I’ve had many friendships end horribly, and I’m tough on myself in every facet of life.
Just because we go through something once doesn’t mean we’ve escaped it or graduated from it for all time. If anything, all we’ve done is set ourselves up for a more profound version of it in the future; something similar but more complex we have to face and overcome.
I believe that’s part of how life needs to work and to work correctly.
But what I learned from my first big fib has stayed with me for a long time. I will never forget the feelings and the revelations. I won’t forget the disappointment and results. It’s become a guiding star; something tangible to provide color and contrast when I’m attempting to make decisions in my present for my future.
I’m a better person for it. And I owe incredible expressions of gratitude to my parents, my friend’s parents, but mostly my friend, Dave, who dared to do the right thing in the first place.