My daughter’s junior year of high school changed before it began.
My husband and I took our son off to college during the last weekend of the summer. After listening to pleading, whining, and negotiating, we let our 16-year-old daughter remain home alone for the very first time ever. She assured us that she knew “the rules,” promised to call us regularly, and vowed that she would behave responsibly. We even gave our permission to invite a few friends over to watch movies.
Three invited friends became five and, within an hour, the numbers multiplied. Before she knew it, over 25 sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-year-old kids were swarming around our home. Our daughter became overwhelmed by the sudden uninvited crowd and mystified (uh huh) by the appearance of beer. She naively rationalized that her friends were good kids, nothing bad would happen, and that we — her parents — would never find out.
The end came painfully and memorably. At 12:15am Officers Caudell and Finley arrived on the scene. “Friends” scattered like leaves in the wind; running and hiding while Jessie alone faced the glaring flashlights, surrounded by empty beer cans. Parents were called to take their kids home. Two kids spent the night in jail. And, worst of all, one officer made her call us, her parents, to apprise us of the situation.
While the party was not premeditated (or maybe it actually was!), our daughter recognized that she allowed it to happen and, as a result, had to atone. She begged us for forgiveness through tears and heaving sobs; she nervously offered explanations to friends’ parents; she chastised so-called-friends for deserting her; and, she wrote letters of apology to neighbors for any disturbance that may have been caused. She wanted the nightmare to end.
The seemingly irreparable violation of our trust and overall feelings of humiliation were nothing compared to the ripples that spread through our daughter’s junior year of high school. As the school year started, grand rumors circulated about the party. Teachers, with no actual facts, drew erroneous conclusions about the situation, her role, and her behavior. The faculty’s misinformation translated into the denial of her application for a special program and refusal to admit her to the National Honor Society. Her pristine reputation became tarnished.
We requested an appointment with the principal. It was our daughter’s meeting, but I went to offer emotional support. Her objective was not to “name names,” but rather to share her version of the story and review the ways in which she tried to make amends through apologies, self-grounding, and self-imposed community service. While the administration appreciated having all of the facts, all was not miraculously forgiven or forgotten.
This experience taught our daughter about overcoming challenges and learning life’s lessons. She now understands that repairing a damaged reputation takes ten times the effort of creating a great first impression and — with regard to one’s teachers and others — “perception” becomes reality. She also learned the painful fact that building trust takes years, destroying it takes seconds, and rebuilding it could take a lifetime.
As far as we’re concerned, my husband and I never thought this could happen with one of OUR children. (Big mistake. Huge!) After all, they knew our rules from Day 1. So, as you can imagine, words cannot express the deep hurt and disappointment we felt, not only by our daughter’s actions, but by the reactions or inactions of the other kids’ parents’ as well.
At the end of the day, painful lessons can leave you stronger, wiser, and hopefully better prepared to handle future situations. Our daughter learned a lot from that day. So did we.