It was like any ordinary late summer evening in 1997. Most days, it was still warm and sunny, but the nights were getting cooler. The sun had just about disappeared when we all sat in the kitchen for dinner.
“Lara has something to tell us,” my hubby suggested. “We visited Mr. Dobbs’ office today.” “We” really meant Lara and maybe a few other students.
Mr. Dobbs was West School’s principal, where our daughter was enrolled in third grade.
I looked at both of them. And?
My eyebrows must have gone up. Lara looked from her father to me and back. She set down her spoon on her plate and took a deep breath.
“It wasn’t all my fault,” she reasoned.
“What happened?” I asked.
“We wanted to play ball after lunch. But the door to the classroom was locked.” She said, disappointment all over her face.
My hubby and I waited, expectantly. “We needed to win against the other class. We beat them yesterday. They beat us the day before.”
Pause again. “But the door was locked.”
“Then what?” I prodded, gently.
“Michael was banging on the door. He was getting mad. I found a paper clip on the floor. So I tried to open the lock with the paper clip.” This time she was looking at her plate.
I let out a laugh. My hubby was amused too. “Did you really think you could pick a lock with a paper clip? That’s just in the movies!”
“Yeah but someone saw us and told the recess monitors. So we were sent to Mr. Dobb’s office.” She was obviously annoyed and afraid at this point.
“What did Mr. Dobbs say to you?”
“He said we needed to be careful because we could destroy school property.”
“That is true. Banging on the door and inserting a paperclip in a lock can ruin a door.” I said, in as neutral a tone I could muster. “What else did he say?”
“He said it’s up to our parents to hear about it. He said he will call you if he hears about us doing anything like that again.”
We had always maintained that we wanted our daughter to participate in thinking through her actions and their consequences. We also encouraged her early on to decide on the consequence of a negative behavior, so she can weigh in on what the appropriate consequence is.
This entire event was really, a non-event, as far as we were concerned. However, we did not realize the effect of having been sent to the principal’s office had on her. We were quite shocked by what followed in our discussion.
“What do you think? What should we do about this?” My hubby posed the open-ended question.
She looked at us with pleading eyes. She looked away. Then, she quietly said, “I guess I will not watch TV for a month.”
My hubby and I looked at each other. We did not expect such a harsh penalty. In fact, we did not really think the entire incident was consequence-worthy, let alone principal-worthy.
TV was only allowed on Friday night and/or Saturday afternoon or evening, when we happened to be home. Most times we were outdoors. But my hubby decided to play along.
“Okay. So no TV for a month then.” He smiled and started to eat.
And so, we did not get to watch Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, or Ren & Stimpy for a month. We were not a household obsessed with electronic devices back then. We strongly discouraged Gameboys, Nintendo, and the like, through her childhood. We played a lot of Carmen San Diego and Math Blaster on the computer. These we wanted to encourage, of course. So, it made sense that she would think of the TV as her “peace-offering cum penance.”
What we did more for that month was play Monopoly, Life, and beginners’ Scrabble. We made more trips to the bookstore and the public library for more books to read.
We also learned that our child was developing a strong moral conscience. She was hardest on herself so early in her life.