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SALT LAKE CITY — With the arrival of Thanksgiving, I'm reminded of last year’s holiday experience of solving the Mystery of the Sparkling Cider Thief.
In preparation for the turkey feast, I had purchased some sparkling cider as per our yearly tradition. However, while bringing in groceries one of the bottles had fallen and crashed, leaving only two and no time for a return store trip. The morning before turkey day I woke to see one of the precious remaining bottles sitting by the fridge, opened and partially empty. This, with nary an explanation as to why we would now be deprived of our traditional cider for the big celebration (gross insult and weighty error that it was).
As I asked children nearby if they had opened the bottle, all claimed innocence and ignorance. For some reason, hearing this repeated "I dunno know, wasn’t me" six times just put me over the edge. Suddenly, it was if a fast rewinding history of previous similar moments went through my brain, moments of when something that I needed/used/liked/thought was vitally important was suddenly destroyed/opened/used/gone.
And then it happened. I decided to follow through.
Rather than push for an answer then lecture not to touch what isn’t yours, blah, blah, blah, I said that the bottle didn’t matter so much as the principle. I calmly stated that this kind of behavior of just taking or using or eating whatever was spontaneously desired needed to stop. In order to do that, I needed to know who it was that had opened the bottle. Still no one confessed. I then announced that everyone would sit at the kitchen table until the person who had done so would admit it. Then I peacefully went about tidying the house.
While cleaning, I did what any good parent would do and carefully eavesdropped on their discussion, which was highly instructive. They went around the table, each sharing why they could or could not have done it. Like something out of an Agatha Christie novel, they began eliminating, BY THEMSELVES, who could have done it. A few times I was summoned to note that they had agreed to eliminate certain people from suspicion.
The discussion then moved from the table to another room as they began to fold laundry (I figured they may as well multi-task while sleuthing).
Ultimately, it came down to two people, well-known for past similar behaviors. Now at this point, I was caught up in the criminal investigation and seriously could not determine who it was. My suspicion was with the elder brother, but something striking was that the bottle was not completely emptied and hidden, which did not fit with his profile. The younger son didn’t have an outstanding history of such acts, but then, we did nickname him "Stealth" because he is always the first to silently disappear when any form of work is required.
I recognized two amazing outcomes from this experience. One, how vital it is that we more often allow our children to work things out in their own way. And two, how surprisingly compassionate and sweet my boys could be.
Time was ticking and the field was narrowing. You could feel the peer pressure in the room as the children continued to analyze each story and response. The tension reached its ironic and tragic apex: the eldest son in question had a project to complete and had mixed plaster for it just before the "inquiry" began. He ran to the plaster, saw it had irreversibly hardened, and became momentarily inconsolable (no more plaster, no completed project). Just then the younger brother in question reached said project, saw the hardened plaster, heard the elder son’s plight, and actually began to tear up.
After I expressed my condolences on the plaster, I left to put in another load of laundry. Suddenly, there it was–a sound of sweetness. I peeked in the room to see my eldest son hugging my younger son and telling him that it was alright and that it feels better to tell the truth. The middle son was quietly adding epithets such as, "We’re proud of you for telling the truth...just don’t go getting a big head or anything."
As I realized my youngest had spilled the beans and was the Cider Cypher, I recognized two amazing outcomes from this experience. One, how vital it is that we more often allow our children to work things out in their own way. And two, how surprisingly compassionate and sweet my boys could be.
At the appropriate moment, my husband and I entered the room and shared how proud we were of them all, and life went back to the regular rhythm. My husband and I turned to leave and smiled at each other: another magical parenting success that appropriately did not require us as parents.
Connie Sokol is an author, presenter, TV contributor and mother of seven. Visitwww.conniesokol.comto see more of her work.