When I was 14, I convinced my brother Kent’s friends, Steve and Rick (aged 17) to teach me to drive Rick’s car. Kent was out for a run and my parents were in Europe. God only knows where the babysitter was, but knowing her, she probably would have encouraged this dumb-ass decision.
After just a few miles, during which I barely stayed on the road and either Rick or Steve should have had the wherewithal to take back the wheel, I rounded a corner and ended up face to face with a telephone pole.
Crushed fender. Power outage in a 3-mile radius. Broken nose.
Steve drove us home and we promptly began tossing the football around to create the setting for our story of me getting hit in the face with the football á la Marcia Brady.
Oh. My. Nose.
Brother came home – reenactment.
Babysitter came home – embellished tale.
Parents home from Germany – story so well polished that telling them that it no longer seemed a lie.
Jump ahead a couple of years to difficulty breathing and a bizarre ability to whistle through my nostrils, and a visit to the doctor.
He looked inside and asked “How did you break your nose?”
By now, the story was quite old and dusty – it felt a bit stilted and a lot bullshitty. As the words were coming out of my mouth, my brain was sure that he was going to declare, “There’s no way that a football did this amount of damage.”
Bless his heart, he didn’t.
Did he believe me? If he did, I’m glad I didn’t let him operate.
Jump ahead a few more years, Kent and I are home from college for a visit and my father says, “We are going to have Amnesty Night.”
“Each one of us will confess to something that he or she has done (bad) and no one will get in trouble.”
I couldn’t wait to get the accident off of my chest. I already had gray hair from the weight of the lie in addition to my penchant for whistling show tunes without opening my mouth.
Mom went first. Hers was pretty big, but you know, since she’s the mom, and Dad already knew her secret, she had no fear of repercussions.
Kent refused to participate.
Then it was my turn. My legs turned to Jell-O, sweat poured down my sides and I dry-heaved a tiny bit.
“Are you sure that I won’t get in trouble?”
“Even if it’s really bad?”
“Really? Total amnesty?”
“You won’t get mad?”
“I’ll be allowed to return to college?”
Arms shaking, chin quivering, voice barely audible, I dove in, losing confidence as I told the tale, certain of my imminent evisceration, but in far enough that there was no stopping.
At the end…silence.
I’d gone too far, shared too much, disappointed them beyond words.
And then, Mom, “Oh, we already knew that.”
Are. You. F-ing. Kidding.
“Oh yeah, Steve’s mom told us the day after it happened.
My parents are better liars than I am. My mother was at that doctor’s appointment and didn’t let on?
Bowels loosening, I ran to the bathroom.
When I returned, Dad was up. I thought, “After what I just confessed, this better be good.”
“I broke something (some innocuous ceramic doo-dad placed in the never used guest bathroom) and glued it back together.”
That’s it? I just lost ten years of my life and you broke something that Kent and I didn’t even know existed and glued it back together? So unfair.
And yet, what came out of this, besides my first night of guilt-free sleep in 6 years, was a family tradition of Amnesty Nights; an every-so-often confession without the requisite Hail Marys.
Now that I am a mom, and a single one trying to raise teenagers at that, I have instituted Amnesty Night and I do believe it is a proof of my parenting genius.
For our first round I witnessed the same terror and lack of trust that I felt that first night with my parents. I was smart enough to establish that no one was allowed to abstain.
I still haven’t forgiven my brother for that.
They shook and sweated and quivered – while compassionate, I also relished their fear. Then, they told me.
Let’s just say it involved alcohol, lying, staying out all night, the mountains, driving with God-knows-who, and their poor innocent friend who had no idea that they were “staying at (his) house.”
Horrified and grateful that they survived to tell me this story, I took a big gulp of air and thanked them for their honesty.
“What about you, Mom?”
“Remember when _____ was sick? Well someone gave me some food to take to her which included homemade, dark chocolate truffles…”
Long story short, after arguing with my conscience about dipping into those beautiful treats, “She’s sick, they are a gift for her, you can’t be that friend, okay, just one.”
I ended up prone on my bed, stoned to the bejesus, thinking I was dying since I had no idea what was happening, all while the children were downstairs playing video games.
Once I finally put two and two together, I knew that even if I could have moved my legs, there was no way that I could interact face to face with the boys, so I sent them a text, “Everything okay? Are you having fun? I’m really tired – going to bed.”
I’m sure they snuck out.
But suddenly, there it was: trust.
Not always – I’m not that stupid – but more than I could wish for.
We’ve had a few Amnesty Nights since then, sometimes spontaneously instigated by one of the boys when his guilty consciences take over his addled teenage brains.
Sometimes, I want to throttle them for their stupidity, but there is the promise of no repercussions to which I adhere.
One time I called for Amnesty Night and their response was, “We’ve got nothing, Mom, we’ve told you everything.”
And for a mom of three boys who are children but think they are adults, that is music to my ears.
Suzanne Strazza is an award-winning writer in Mancos, Colo.