Elementary, My Dear Watson
I’m always amazed at how even the simplest undertakings can explode into major incidents when children are involved. Take the other evening for example, when I dispensed some chewable vitamins to my two daughters. There ensued the usual debate of whether today’s pill should be a purple tiger, a pink elephant or an orange hippopotamus. And then came the ritual of smearing the wet vitamin all over their cheeks to create colorful splotches that looked like the onset of some exotic disease. So far so good. I’ve come to expect and tolerate these proceedings.
I had just managed to send both girls off, perfectly satisfied with the proper shade and species of vitamin, only to have two-year-old Emily come storming back into the kitchen, howling like a wild banshee. Her sister Madison was not far behind, bawling hysterically and insisting, “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!” Which of course immediately led me to believe that whatever “it” was, Madison must certainly have done it.
I consoled Emily until her sobs lessened to a decibel that I hoped wouldn’t cause permanent hearing loss, and then I managed to decipher that she was telling me Madison had eaten her vitamin.
“I didn’t!” Madison repeated for the twentieth time in the last 30 seconds. “Emily ate it.” And then the hysterical crying recommenced, in stereo.
Had I been smart, I would have simply given Emily another pill, resigning myself to the notion that whichever girl had received the double dose would just be twice as healthy that day. But that would have been too easy.
Maybe I’ve read too many crime novels lately, because my first instinct was to set Madison in a dark room with a bare light bulb aimed in her eyes, and rapid-fire questions at her until she cracked under the pressure and babbled out a full confession to the heinous crime of eating her sister’s vitamin. After all, honesty and truthfulness are important values to instill in our children.
But then, so is trust. And there was the catch. If I took Madison on her word and she was lying, this would teach her that she could simply lie her way out of trouble. If, however, I chose not to believe her and she was telling the truth, it would make honesty seem futile since I didn’t believe it anyway.
Okay, I would withhold judgment and try to resolve this objectively. Thus began my investigation into the case of the missing vitamin.
“Emily, did you eat your vitamin?”
“Open your mouth.” She presented the cavern for inspection, and I examined it like a veteran horse trader. Nope, no traces of vitamin. That let her off the hook.
“Madison, did you eat Emily’s vitamin?”
“No!” But of course, she had eaten her own pill, so a cursory check of her choppers got me nowhere. She was still my number one suspect.
“Where did it go, then?”
“She dropped it!” Madison suggested.
Emily led us to the scene of the alleged crime, and we all got down on our hands and knees to search the premises for clues (I was feeling like a regular Sherlock Holmes by this time). We found nothing. Now I was thoroughly convinced Madison was guilty.
Meanwhile, Emily and Madison had had so much fun inspecting each other’s teeth and crawling around on the floor with me, that they were fully recovered from their trauma over the pill’s disappearance. Perhaps showing trust in Madison was more important than conning a confession out of her, I thought. Maybe three-year-olds are just too young to understand the difference between the truth and lying.
I trundled the girls off to bed, and sat down to read the newspaper. As I picked the paper off the coffee table, out popped Emily’s missing vitamin! How rotten I felt for doubting Madison’s word. I went straight to her room, told her I had found the pill, and apologized for not believing her.
Madison smiled. “Where did you find it?” she asked.
“In the newspaper,” I told her and she laughed. Hmm… now just how did the pill get in the newspaper, anyway?
“Madison,” I said, reaching for a bare light bulb, “Did you hide Emily’s vitamin?”
# # #
The case of the misplaced vitamin was never resolved, but both girls grew up to be outstanding citizens, so I guess they learned the right lessons whether I bungled in my teaching of them or not. I’m not sure if they still take vitamins, though. I haven’t seen any purple or orange cheeks lately.