A few years ago my sister and I were discussing things we got away with in our youth. Things we were involved in that would have surely resulted in trouble for us if our parents knew. I cannot remember her confessions but one of mine was skipping high school. I skipped at least eight times as a junior and still managed to receive a perfect attendance award at the end of the year.
The school day started in homeroom where attendance was taken. A list of absent students was then circulated to all teachers. Most teachers relied on the list and did not retake attendance. This provided the opportunity to disappear after homeroom.
My brother-in-law joined the conversation and described his method for skipping school. He would leave for school, get in the large recreational vehicle his family kept parked in the driveway, and hang out there until school ended. Clever, but you cannot be awarded perfect attendance with that method.
Our conversation took place in front of our mother, who scolded us like the crimes had just been committed. We were comfortable with that. The fear of punishment had long since passed. Basically, the statute of limitations had expired.
I think the statute of limitations expires for most youthful misdeeds after 20 years, or once you are financially independent. The guilty party can choose.
Unfortunately, my misdeeds did not skip a generation. My children have had their adventures.
Please note: I will discuss “my children” as “our children” from this point, with one consideration. My wife Kim has “suggested” I include a disclaimer specifying that the tendency toward misdeeds or misadventures is strictly of paternal inheritance.
Our first children, the twins Andy and Ben, were always together and if anything happened you could bet they were both involved. They were small and it wasn’t hard to figure out what they were up to.
As they got older they were more independent and it was harder to determine who did what. We often had no idea what was going on and they would not tell on each other. Fortunately, just when they thought they had it made, along came little sister Emily.
Once she could talk, if something happened I would just point to Emily. That was the cue for her to tell everything she knew, and she did. The only problem was she could not tell the twins apart. Emily called them both Andy-Ben. They were a unit. I would ask, "Which one did it? Her reply, “Spank them both." My wife Kim and I stopped dressing the twins alike to make it easier for Emily to identify the culprit.
Just after she learned to tell Andy and Ben apart she stopped telling on them. She had reached the age where the boys occasionally had the goods on her. It was no longer to her advantage to tattle. I believe the three of them held a summit, a treaty was signed, and from that point, nobody knew anything about anything.
Not to be out done, my wife and I countered by having another child, Katie. Unfortunately for us, as soon as Katie could talk the older kids reconvened the summit and updated the treaty. Suddenly Katie didn't know anything about anything either.
The treaty was solid. Proof of this became evident one evening after the twins were old enough to babysit the girls. Kim and I came home and an entire arm of the sofa was torn off. And of course, nobody knew anything about anything.
I was dismayed. A broken vase or plate, maybe another broken window but an entire arm torn off the sofa? I would have to take a crowbar and hammer to the sofa to do that kind of damage. What in the world happened? Kim and I ran through a dozen different scenarios and could not figure it out.
The interrogation of the children was long but unfruitful. Again, nobody knew anything about anything. They accepted punishment as a group without giving up the true culprit or culprits.
The twins are 30 now. The girls are 27 and 23. To this day they will not tell us what happened to the sofa and who did it. But, we are approaching the end of the statute of limitations.
They will eventually have to come clean. They might hold out until they have gained our powers of attorney and are signing the papers placing their mother and me in assisted living. At least then I’ll know what happened.
Until then, I am comforted by the knowledge that my grandchildren are probably well on their way to the equivalent of tearing the arm off a sofa and having their own treaty.
Dr. Jeff Miller is assistant professor of chiropractic with the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute and the author of "The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction: 50 Activities for Creating a Positive Outlook." His column publishes the first Friday of each month.