In the middle of a much needed Saturday afternoon nap, I was abruptly awaken by a knock on my front door and a doorbell ring. It was supposed to be quiet time, so the girls were upstairs either napping or pretending to sleep. Neither my wife nor myself were expecting any visitors (besides, any family nearby already had a key). So I didn’t know what to expect when I hurredly got dressed and walked to the door. I certainly didn’t expect to see a police officer on the other side. But there I was, at 4pm in the middle of a sunny afternoon being asked if someone had called 911 from this residence. Apparently in the past 20 minutes there had been two calls placed from our home and he was responding to the alarm.
Suddenly, I became aware of both myself and my surroundings in that moment. There on my front porch was an armed law enforcement officer, asking me earnest questions about my household. Meanwhile, I looked disheveled, mumbled unclear responses, and basically a hot mess, having just woken up. I wondered what he was thinking about me in that moment. I’d have been suspicious.
One of his questions snapped me back out of my momentary daze. Is there anyone else here? Yes. My wife is here, and we have four daughters, but they’re all upstairs asleep. Let me go check. I asked him to wait while I went upstairs. Sure enough the older two were awake (which is typically the case as long as they keep it down, I’m fine with that). I asked them to come to the door for a second. I also grabbed the phone and started scrolling through the call history as we walked to the door. Nothing yet.
I should have suspected something was up when upon opening the door, Olivia asked, are we going to jail? That was an interesting, and unprompted response. My cousin who lives nearby is a local Atlanta police officer. He’s come over before in his uniform and we’ve had conversations with the girls about law enforcement, their role, our role, all in an attempt to familiarize them with how to interact with the police. They’re too young to fully understand my own traumatic run-ins with law enforcement as a teenager in college (a story for another post, but one that left me with my own scars and uneasiness). I desperately want them to have a different story, we’ll see if that happens.
Anyway, there we stood at the door, the girls and I talking to the officer. I used this as a teachable moment to reinforce lessons about law enforcement. I also assumed that they were telling both me and the officer the truth; that they in fact did not make a 911 call while we were all sleeping. The officer dutifully reminded the girls that 911 was for emergencies, and if they every needed to dial it, someone would be there to help. I used the moment as a chance to once again humanize someone meant to support our community, asking him if he patrols our neighborhood often, and making other small talk. Then, we closed the door and moved on with our lives.
Or so I thought. It still bugged me that there was a 911 call placed and we didn’t know the source of it. What if it came from our elderly next door neighbor, Ms. Smith? I started to put on shoes to walk next door, but something prompted me to first check our online call history on my Comcast account to make sure. Sure enough, I found that a 911 call had been placed at 3:28 from our residence. But that didn’t make sense, right? The girls had told both me and the officer that they didn’t do it.
I told my wife and like the master prosecutor that she is, she called the girls down and lined them up to extract the confession out of them. Watching it was like watching a masterclass in law & order. She began by asking the older one…so, tell me what happened? It wasn’t an accusation, it was simply an opening. To my surprise, Riley began with the phrase, well… which we all know is universal for I know something that I don’t want to tell. Riley was the easy one to crack. She sticks to the facts, and when she knows that she’s run out of rope, she doesn’t keep going. Moments later, though we’d learned that Riley wasn’t the one to place the call, she was involved in a game that they were playing where Olivia pretended to call the cops, and a few times Olivia “accidentally” pressed the button.
Olivia was tougher because she’s believable when it comes to bending the truth. She’d already flat out lied the first time, and when asked directly again she repeated the same mistake. But with her sister blowing her cover, she began to cry and could tell that she’d been found out. In this moment, what was most amazing was watching my wife not get angry about the lie, but use this as a teaching moment to instruct that the cover up was way worse. Isn’t that always the case?
Afterwards, I had each of the girls write a note, explaining what they did, the choices they made, how they felt about it, and what they could do better. Riles was brief and to the point: I lied because I didn’t want to rat out my sister. I told her this was admirable, but she can both stand by her sister without condemning bad behavior at the same time. Olivia’s was interesting because she mentioned not wanting make me or the officer mad.
Here’s what I learned and here’s what I hope they learned in all of this. I was reminded that yes, I trust too easily and freely, and sometimes it can be taken advantage of. I learned that my girls aren’t always going to be truthful with me (despite Olivia’s note to always be 100% honest from now on). We all make mistakes, and sometimes the calculated error of not wanting to be found out with a police officer at your door is one of those mistakes. I get it. I was disappointed, but at least I could have an honest conversation with them about why it was disappointing. I told them that our relationship is built on trust, and lying breaks the relationship. Trust is a two way street, and in order for it to work well, you’ve got to believe me and I’ve got to believe you.
I was reminded that also have a role to play in maintaining this trust. As they get older, but particularly now while they’re young, my word has to mean something. It’s why when I say we’ll go somewhere or do something, I follow through. I’m not always perfect in this area (who can be), but often I go through painstaking efforts to follow through on promises I’ve made just to reinforce this point.
While we often focus on what’s lost when we lose trust in each other or institutions, maintaining trust costs something as well. And it’s these small teachable moments that reinforce the ongoing cost that trust exacts.