Once in elementary school, I got caught up in a neighborhood crime spree.
My mom’s best friend had two sons. My brother and I often played at their house while our moms did their mom stuff — endless blabbing while downing pots of coffee. There were many more boys in their row of townhouses, which meant I spent a fair amount of time playing with a passel of boys. They weren’t mean kids, per se, but a couple of them had acute ornery streaks.
One cloudy Saturday afternoon, we all headed to the school playground to play. One of the orneriest boys had somehow procured a roll of stickers. The stickers were yellow and black, probably 3-inch square, and said something completely uninteresting to us. I’ll bet the roll had at least 500 uninteresting stickers just begging to be stuck somewhere.
I have no idea who started it, but the boys went wild, plastering the playground equipment and cinderblock walls of the school with every single one of those stickers. I followed them around, but I did not participate in the vandalism. I wasn’t one to do naughty things for sport.
Rain brewed above us, and I wanted to head home.
“Hey, she didn’t do any. She’s going to tell.” One of the boys sneered, astutely recognizing me as a tattletale risk. “She has to do one, too,” he demanded, reasoning that if I participated, I wouldn’t tell, because who’d be dumb enough to tell on themselves, right?
They stood in a line to block my exit. They ganged up, telling me I had to do my part and plaster a sticker on the school grounds.
“You just have to do one sticker,” they promised. “You’re not going home until you do,” they added menacingly.
I looked to the older of my friends for protection. He was either in agreement with the others or afraid to stand up to them. The most he’d do for me was try to coach me through it.
“Just do one, it’s no big deal,” he coaxed, trying to make me feel better, but not about to let me off the hook. “Nobody’s going to tell.”
I climbed the old fashioned, sky-high metal slide — one with basically no safety features whatsoever — and slid down, the sticker in my hand. I slapped the metal behind me to fake sticker vandalism.
“Ok, I did it,” I lied. They knew I was lying and sent me back up the ladder to try again. The second time, against every moral fiber, I did it. I affixed the sticker, and a tiny portion of my innocence, to the shiny metal of the slide. The mist was increasing, and the boys finally parted ways, allowing me to go home.
Riding home, I sniveled in the back seat of the car, on the verge of a breakdown from the guilt of my crime. “You should just tell me what happened,” my mom said. And I did. In the back of my parents’ 1971 Ford Maverick, I spilled the beans. Mom was stern and mortified me by telling me I’d need to tell the school principal, and she saw to it that I did.
I’m sure all those boys thought it was vengeance, or just me being a goody-goody, when I snitched. They were especially incensed their punishment was to scrape every last one of those stickers off the equipment, and I didn’t have to help. After all, I did it, too, right? That was their logic.
I hadn’t thought about this incident in years until recently. My kids are currently about the age we were then — I now see things in a different light. It looks like kid stuff now. But then, back then, I felt like a seedy criminal.
A few nights ago, after 10 p.m., my daughter came running out of her bedroom and crawled into my lap. I tried to send her back to bed, but she said she couldn’t until she told me something. She confessed that she and her brother had been sneaking around playing instead of going to sleep. She was panic-stricken with remorse and sobbed that she didn’t want to get in trouble, but she just couldn’t keep the secret.
I knew exactly how she felt.
Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell blogs at mom2momkc.com.