It began with a simple phone call.

The school district’s automated system called to inform us that our child had 25 cents remaining of her lunch balance. I was a little confused. How could she have one quarter left, when she’d only bought lunch twice? Each of my kids had begun the school year with a $20 balance. I’d have to get to the bottom of this.

I could tell something was up, just by the way her eyes got big and blank looking when I’d asked her. She didn’t have time to answer before a younger sibling interrupted. She was saved by the temper tantrum. My trusty Mom Radar was comin’ out. I knew I was on to something, and it would only be a matter of time. I had my ways of extracting information.

As we drove home from school the next day, car packed with sweaty kids, I asked again. This time I asked the friend, as my daughter, Suspect #1, sat quietly watching. The friend, now Suspect #2, said, very seriously, “maybe her lunch account was hacked online”. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Ok, now they were just insulting my intelligence.

Later, I pulled Suspect #1 aside for questioning. I was firm and calm. I had this thing in the bag. She had no where to turn. No alibi. It was all over for her, and she knew it. I finally got a confession. Apparently she’d been operating a cafeteria crime ring.

At snack recess, Suspect #1 would eat her own snack, lovingly packed by yours truly. Then she’d eat her counterpart’s, Suspect #2, snack too. The payoff came in the form of lunch purchases for Suspect #2. My kid would buy an off the record — illegal —  if you will, snack from the cafeteria as compensation for her friend.

I was not at all happy about having been bold face lied to. How dare they! I couldn’t remember a time where we’d had issues with dishonesty; with any of my kids. What else had they lied about? The most logical punishment is not replenishing that lunch account. My daughter’s buying lunch at school privilege has been terminated indefinitely. Which, of course is punishment for me as well, since I’m the in home lunch lady. Gone are the days of taking a night off my healthy lunch assembly line. Besides that, I now I had visions of her growing up and turning into a deadbeat, dishonest daughter.image

I remember when I was a kid, maybe a little older, getting caught in a lie of my own. I hadn’t studied for Mr. Dunaway’s history test. I couldn’t go to school and face that dreaded exam. The only logical thing to do was pretend I was sick. My mom, being a teacher, always confirmed or denied any of our proposed illnesses with a thermometer. The trusty thermometer was the true test of any sickness in our household.

So, as I laid in bed, thin glass mercury thermometer carefully balanced between upper and lower teeth, I hatched a plan. As soon as mom walked out of my room, I took the thermometer from my mouth and held it to the blazing light bulb on my bedside table lamp. It was risky, I knew. But I felt that I had no alternative.

I must’ve been so focused on tilting the thermometer just so, onto that bright bulb, that I didn’t hear her enter my room. The rest is a blur. Mom freaked. I was catapulted out of bed; ordered to get dressed immediately. I was being shipped to school; there was no way out. I was going to have to face that horrifying history test AND I’d been caught. Things weren’t going so well for me.

Yet, so far, I’ve managed to stay out of jail. Never been arrested, never been in trouble with the law. There was that time, two separate occasions, actually, that my sorority sister and I got in the tow truck altercation. We’d parked illegally near campus and the tow truck had instantly appeared, out of thin air. It hitched up my car, while we made our convenience store selections inside, ready to be carted off.

Having heard that they legally couldn’t tow your car if you were inside it, we jumped in my front seat. Like Thelma and Louise, but in an unmoving vehicle, we held strong. No way were we moving. I was a broke student and couldn’t afford towing! When the policeman arrived, he took pity on us. Maybe it was my crop top or my girlfriend’s cute, skintight black party pants. Whatever the case, Mr. Cop advised us to cough up $20 for the tow truck guy, and drive away. Besides that, and a few speeding tickets, my record is squeaky clean.

Although my daughter lied, she’s not a liar. I believe there is a difference. I’m fairly confident that her crime ring was a bump along her road of growing up. Being a kid is about learning right from wrong and occasionally messing up along the way. She’s a good kid. So is her friend. If they learned from this mistake, then it was worth it in the long run.

In the mean time, I’m passing the torch of household lunch lady to her. I can’t let her off too easily. And, I need a break, darn it.