In my opinion (and I know how much you all love to hear my opinion!), to be believed when we are telling the truth is very important to the essence of our humanity. One of the things that my husband, John, and I talked about as we entered our role as parents (we now have two adult sons) was how to handle situations where an outside party brought an issue surrounding one of our children to our attention. We decided that for us, the best course of action would be to listen to the concern without commenting on it, then let the person(s) know that we would get back to them once we had a chance to talk to our son.
I keep coming back to one of the times when this happened. Our younger son was in eighth grade and decided to join the cross country running team. The team was small enough that it was combined with the high school team, and all practices were held at the high school. In order to accommodate the junior high kids, the school district bused them over to the high school after school each day.
One afternoon I received a call from the coach; the junior high boys had been caught going through duffel bags in the high school cafeteria. Girls clothing had been thrown around and some money had been stolen. All was caught on tape and therefore the boys were being suspended from the team immediately. I did just as John and I had decided: listened to the coach, knowing that we would talk to our son privately.
When I arrived at the school to pick up our son, he was standing on the sidewalk near the coach. I could tell by the look on his face that he was trying not to cry, and that he was devastated. As he got in the car, the coach walked over and told me it was too bad the boys were suspended for three weeks, effectively for the rest of the season.
On the way home, my son cried his heart out, repeating “I didn’t do it, Mom. I didn’t.” I kept reassuring him that we wanted to hear his side, and to try to breathe, try to calm down.
When we arrived home, I washed his face with a cool cloth, got him some water and gave him a hug. “I believe you,” I said, holding my arms around him. The moment I told him I believed him, I felt his shoulders relax, listened as the sobbing subsided into crying.
I will hold you in suspense for a moment as I ponder. This is what an author can do – make you wait to find out what happened!
Recently, I made a decision that I knew could alter the entire course of my life, as well as the course of many others. It was a decision that I had contemplated for months – months of not knowing if it was the right thing to do, months of trying other ways, only to see them not work. As I contemplated the decision, I checked in with myself regularly to make sure I was making it out of love, and that my hope of being heard would be the outcome of the decision. Finally, I moved forward with the decision.
Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me, the method by which I carried out my decision was viewed in a much different way than what I had intended. This caused an enormous amount of stress for all involved. Once I knew how it had been perceived I was horrified and set about letting all involved know that what they were thinking was not what I had intended. In the end, I focused on the one person who was most affected. I validated the concern by saying, “I can see how you might have thought this,” and offered my side, “I didn’t make the decision with the intention that you are thinking.” After much discussion and rehashing of the situation, this person chose to believe me, and for that I am grateful.
Now, back to our son’s predicament. As he told us his version, we immediately understood that he did not do it. As the story went on, we came to realize that the boys were dropped off at the school a full hour before practice started – and that this hour was completely unsupervised. Tony told us that upon arrival at the high school each day the first thing they did was drop off their backpacks/duffels in the cafeteria. From there, they would wander the halls of the high school, take advantage of the vending machines etc. In this case, three of the boys stayed in the cafeteria, while our son and another boy set about wandering the halls. “There is no way I am on the video – I wasn’t in the cafeteria when it happened,” he explained. At this point Mama Bear went into action. I told Tony that I would be calling the coach and would demand that we be allowed to see the video. “We believe you,” his dad told him.
The next day I spoke to the coach on the phone and told him I would be at the high school office at the end of the day to view the video and that I wanted him and the principal present. A few hours later the coach called. He admitted that he had never actually watched the video, he had just assumed all five boys were in the cafeteria. Since I had demanded to see the video, he decided to watch it and – surprise! surprise! – our son and the other boy were not in it. They were, in fact, on a completely different piece of video – shown purchasing a Mountain Dew or something at a vending machine.
It is hard to not jump to conclusions; this is something I have learned the hard way over the past several days. I put myself into a tailspin and went through a very dark time because I felt I wasn’t being heard and believed. All I could think about was how to provide enough proof to “make” people believe me. I was doing exactly what I have tried to model for most of my adult life: don’t jump to conclusions, don’t assume the worst. And once I started jumping to conclusions I jumped right into a deep, black hole. The entry into this hole was scary for me, and for my husband and loved ones, to see.
But then, with the help of family, friends and my counselor, I started to retreat from the darkness and felt brave enough to re-approach the light. By doing this, I started to see the situation from an entirely new perspective. Number one, I know my decision, though painfully hard, was made with only the best of intentions. Number two, the person who my decision most affected, does believe me.
So, today’s lesson is: We, in our personal, social and worldly lives, must listen to each other – and only then can we understand what is true, and what is not. By choosing this path, our relationships will have a foundation built out of love, with a lot of loyalty and trust sprinkled in. And it is these relationships that can withstand the darkest – and brightest – of times.