The other day I got an email from Harrison's third-grade teacher informing me that he had been caught in a homework lie.
My son told his teacher that I'd taken the homework out of his backpack. He told me the night before that he didn't have any homework.
Something was afoot.
The moment Harrison walked in the door he knew he was in trouble.
"Hi, Mom," he said shuffling into the kitchen.
"Hi, Son." I gave him a big hug and pulled up a chair so we could talk face to face.
"So you got in trouble for lying about your homework today, huh?" I said.
"Yeah. Well, I didn't really lie ... I mean just a little one ..."
We talked about it for a moment longer and he admitted he'd fibbed. After apologizing he headed to his room.
I watched him walk away and spied his green backpack dumped on the floor.
Grabbing it by the strap, the thing felt like it weighed a good 25 pounds. I plopped it on the table and unzipped the mystery.
One by one I pulled out crumpled, unfinished homework sheets. Pages and pages, an entire quarter of untouched worksheets. Why hadn't his teacher said anything? I was horrified to see more than 20 sheets of neglected homework crumpled on the counter.
And then I found the first moldy lunch.
I'm careful with money, so I usually make Harrison a cold lunch for school. He has a running hot lunch account for emergencies, but we only use it occasionally; lunches cost $2.40 and that really adds up.
By the fifth moldy lunch sack, I was in total awe. The apples alone were hefty, not to mention all the water bottles. No wonder his bag was weighing him down.
"Harrison," I called up the stairs, "I need you in the kitchen."
He turned the corner and stopped in his tracks, eyes locked on the table.
The lunches. The homework. The terrible awful truth.
You know when your kid is in so much trouble that you can't even yell because they're such a pitiful sight?
Immediately he crumpled into a heap, crying about what a terrible person he was.
"I'm just a liar, Mom. A liar! I'm gonna have to live with the Devil. I know you guys hate me, you hate me. Can I have a hug, please?"
He sobbed and cried, explaining that he didn't mean to stop doing his homework, he only lied once because he was tired and then it just got easy. No one noticed.
We talked about the lunches, and how his best friends get hot lunch and they make the cold lunch kids sit on one side of the cafeteria, and he was feeling left out.
Just about then his father walked in the door early from work.
Harrison ran to his room to hide his guilt and I brought Father up to speed. We decided it would be necessary for Harrison to reimburse us for the lunches. He would also lose all electronic privileges (minus light fixtures) for the week while he finished the overdue homework.
He came down and peeked his head around the corner. Jason gently talked to him for a moment, telling him to please go get his money so he could pay for the missing lunches.
We knew this would be the hardest part. He's been saving up to get the newest Mario game, and at two dollars a week it's been a slow process. He was only days away from that last allowance and victory.
He ran up the stairs and was back in the kitchen 20 seconds later.
"Here Dad," he said, holding his hand painted money box in front of him. "Just take it, take it all. I'm so sorry I lied to you about the homework and the lunches. There's almost $30 in there and I want you to take it."
Jason smiled and hugged him, telling him that we only needed enough for the six lunches.
The next morning before school I watched him grab his backpack and throw it over his shoulder.
"Hey!" he said with a smile, "It's so light!"
He hugged me. "Bye Mom, I love you!"
His backpack wasn't the only thing that was lighter.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.