I pull into the school parking lot, late as always these days. Time drags all morning, then suddenly accelerates 20 minutes before school gets out. I park next to my friend, who is standing with the big girls, waiting for me to get there. I step out and see Melanie, who avoids my gaze. “Hello, Mel.” She runs into my arms and gives me a huge hug. “I love you so much, Mommy!” She never calls me Mommy. I look up at Stephanie, and she says, “Melanie, are you going to tell your Mommy, or am I?” Melanie squeezes me tighter. “What happened, Melanie?” She takes a step back, and looks at the ground, silent. “You need to tell your Mommy what happened, Melanie. Or do I have to?” “Okay, you tell her. That’s fine.”

Not with me it isn’t. “Melanie, if you did something wrong, you need to tell me what happened.” Stephanie turns and walks to the other side of the car to say hello to a happily squealing Sylvia, and I continue the interrogation. “I need to know what you did, and I want you to tell me, Mel.” She considers her options, then sees Stephanie on her way back. Melanie embraces me and quickly whispers into my ear, “I didn’t clean up toys, and I didn’t get a sticker.” She lets go and runs off to the car. “Goodbye, Ms. Stephanie!”

I recount Melanie’s story to Stephanie. “Is that what she told you? Well, she first accused a boy in the class of having poop in his pants and kept running around the room, chasing him, saying ‘You have poop in your pants! You pooped in your pants!’ ” I cannot help but chuckle and grin. It’s a pretty funny thought. But I can’t believe she is terrorizing people. Where did she learn that? I try to compose myself and embrace the seriousness of the offense.

Stephanie continues “…and later, when Mrs. Archer told them to clean up the room, Melanie said ‘No.’ Mrs. Archer said, ‘You know better, Melanie. Let’s pick up the toys.” Melanie said ‘No!’ again.” Of course she did. That’s my feisty girl. She will look you in the eyes and defy you.

We say goodbye to friends, and I pause at the door of the van. Melanie, Melanie, what am I going to do with you? Teasing kids at school. Am I raising a bully? Defying her teacher. Am I raising a delinquent? Lying to me. Am I raising a deceiver? Am I failing at this mothering thing? I suppose you always mess up the first one a little. Right?

I climb into the car, turn the key in the ignition, and glance up at the girls. “So, Melanie, you didn’t tell me the truth. You lied babe.” She pauses, and asks, “What did Ms. Stephanie tell you?” “That doesn’t matter. Are you going to tell me what really happened?” I put the car in reverse, while everyone sits in silence. I just wait, quietly driving the car towards home. “Well, am I in trouble, Mom?” “Well, Melanie, are you going to tell me what really happened?” More silence. “Melanie, you back-talked and told Mrs. Archer “no” two times, you refused to pick up toys, and why did you tell the boy at school he had poop in his pants?” She considers this. “I don’t know…I’m ashamed.” “You’re what?” “She says louder, “I’m ashamed, Mommy. I did lots bad today. I mean, I don’t know…”

I sit back, and I am impressed. Yeah, she is in trouble, and of course she has just lost video games for three days, but wow. She is ashamed! I can see it in her eyes. She feels sincerely bad about what she did. We had a teaching moment on teasing, back-talking, and lying. But the icing on the cake, she really feels bad about it, and there is hope for my feisty girl after all.


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