Learning morality the hard way

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about teenagers.  I need to read a lot about teenagers because I seem to have a total blank about how I was as a teenager with my parents.  Teenagers seem to have morality on a sliding scale.  They can become outraged by injustices they hear in the evening news, and yet helping themselves to their brother’s clothes, earphones or iPod for the day is par for the course.

One thing I do remember about being a teenager is how stupid we were and how badly we lied to cover up our stupidity.  In truth, looking back, my parents were incredibly kind, not calling us out on every lie, despite the fact our lies were completely ludicrous and the reasons for lying were so silly.

I remember the time my Dad caught us smoking in our tree fort.  Not exactly the types of behaviour legendary teen years are made of, but hey, it was the suburbs in the 70s.  We thought we were bad.  There were three of us in the tree fort and I was the only one with a parent that smoked.  I was holding a package of my Dad’s favourite brand of cigarettes with a lit cigarette in my hand and smoke coming out of my mouth. My father, coming up the ladder, said “Who is smoking up here?” and I answered “He is!” pointing to my buddy and neighbour.  And my Dad believed me, or at least appeared to.

Teenagers today are just like we were — really, really dumb.  This story begins with a small fib.  My firstborn didn’t want to go to school.  In fact he knew he didn’t want to go to school on this particular Monday on the Friday preceding the Monday in question.  He knew and told a fib to his teacher about why he would be away on Monday.  As it turns out, this story also has a sidekick, which so many teenaged boy stories do.

The Sidekick and my Firstborn decided that instead of attending school on this particularly hot June day, they would instead head out for a day of biking.  The plan was foolproof, in their teenaged minds.  A little biking, followed by some greasy fast food, and complete freedom from parents, teachers, and anyone else that represented authority.  With the stealth of a covert operative, he left the house at his normal time for school, in a school-day disguise of shorts, t-shirt and carrying his back pack.  It fooled me.

It is also important to note that we do talk to our kids a lot about making the right choices, and understanding that they are responsible for the outcomes of their actions.  There are always consequences in life, positive or negative.  Most days I think these talks go in one ear and out the other.

So imagine, if you can, the illicit feeling of stolen freedom that they experienced in those first few minutes.  Sneaking into their cold, damp garages and pedaling out on their bikes, enjoying the warming morning in the sunshine, while all their school mates sat in stifling, boring classrooms.   Riding their bikes down the steep road, wind in their face, and the thrill of ill-gotten, exhilarating freedom.

The problem with this type of adventure is that it is usually the small thing that trips you up.  In their case, a small thing didn’t trip them as much as threw them — a gigantic pothole in the middle of that steep road that turned the wind in their face into a full speed, flying face full of asphalt.  It was a big spill from their bicycles.

Luckily, they were not seriously hurt, just badly scraped up.  My firstborn hobbled back to our home, looking for a quiet place to clean up, regroup and then reconnect with his Sidekick for their adventure.  Unfortunately, I’d decided to work from home that day, and the look on my Firstborn’s face, when he crossed the threshold and saw me, was, as my mother would say, worth the price of admission.

“I didn’t know you were working from home,” he squeaked.

“I didn’t know you were skipping school,” I replied.

Sometimes there are moments as a parent when there’s nothing you can say or do that will make the punishment any more impactful than the consequences that have already occurred.  The scrapes and bruises were significant, and there was no punishment I could envision that would be worse that living with those for the week.  That night as I checked on him in bed, he said the words that every parent hopes to hear.  “Mom, I don’t think lying is worth it.  That Karma thing always gets you,” and I realized that the sliding scale of the morality, had just lined up.

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