The backpack

The other day I got an email from Harrison’s third grade teacher informing me that he had been caught in a homework lie. He told her I’d taken it out of his backpack. He told me the night before that he didn’t have any homework.

Something was afoot.

The moment Harrison walked in the door he knew he was in trouble. “Hi, Mom,” he said shuffling into the kitchen.

“Hi, Son.” I gave him a big hug and pulled up a chair so we could talk face to face. “So you got in trouble for lying about your homework today, huh?” I said.

“Yeah. Well, I didn’t really lie…I mean just a little one…” we talked about it for a moment and he admitted he’d fibbed. After apologizing he headed to his room.

I watched him walk away and spied his green backpack dumped on the floor.

Grabbing it by the strap, the thing felt like it weighed a good 25 pounds. I plopped it on the table and unzipped the mystery.

One by one I pulled out crumpled, unfinished homework sheets. Pages and pages, an entire quarter of untouched worksheets. Why hadn’t his teacher said anything? I was horrified to see over 20 sheets of neglected homework crumpled on the counter.

And then I found the first moldy lunch.

I’m careful with money so I usually make Harrison a cold lunch for school. He has a running hot lunch account for emergencies, but we only use it occasionally; lunches cost $2.40 and that really adds up.

By the fifth moldy lunch sack I was in total awe. The apples alone were hefty, not to mention all the water bottles. No wonder his bag was weighing him down.

“Harrison,” I called up the stairs, “I need you in the kitchen.”

He turned the corner and stopped in his tracks, eyes locked on the table. The lunches. The homework. The terrible awful truth.

You know when your kid is in so much trouble that you can’t even yell because they’re such a pitiful sight? Imediately he crumpled into a heap, crying about what a terrible person he was. “I’m just a liar, Mom! A liar! I’m gonna have to live with the Devil! I know you guys hate me, you hate me! Can I have a hug, please?” He sobbed and cried, explaining that he didn’t mean to stop doing his homework, he only lied once because he was tired and then it just got easy. No one noticed.

We talked about the lunches, and how his best friends get hot lunch and they make the cold lunch kids sit on one side of the cafeteria, and he was feeling left out.

Just about then his father walked in he door early from work. Harrison ran to his room to hide his guilt and I brought Father up to speed. We decided it would be necessary for Harrison to reimburse us for the lunches. He would also lose all electronic privileges (minus light fixtures) for the week while he finished the overdue homework.

He came down and peeked his head around the corner. Jason gently talked to him for a moment, telling him to please go get his money so he could pay for the missing lunches. We knew this would be the hardest part. He’s been saving up to get the newest Mario game, and at two dollars a week it’s been a slow process. He was only days away from that last allowance and victory.

He ran up the stairs and was back in the kitchen twenty seconds later.

“Here Dad,” he said, holding his hand painted money box in front of him. “Just take it, take it all. I’m so sorry I lied to you about the homework and the lunches, there’s almost thirty dollars in there and I want you to take it.” Jason smiled and hugged him, telling him that we only needed enough for the six lunches.

The next morning before school I watched him grab his backpack and throw it over his shoulder. “Hey!” he said with a smile, “It’s so light!” He hugged me. “Bye Mom, I love you!”

His backpack wasn’t the only thing that was lighter.


  1. Good lesson! And he will probably never tell another lie like that again! At least until he is a teenager!?

  2. You handled that very well.
    Sad that they segregate the kids based on their lunch temperature.

  3. Um, I know I’m a boob, but that made me cry. I think Harrison is exactly like me! I did both of those things, and for the same reasons. I was a really good kid, but I still fell into that same thing and it is hard and scary to get out of it. I’m so glad he’s young enough to learn this (I was in Junior High when I figured out that lying about homework will come and bite you), I hope the lesson sticks with him. He sounds like such a sweet boy. I’m glad you handled it without flipping out (I’m sure there would have been a lot of yelling from me!).

  4. Disappointment is one of the greatest learning tool, I think. I love the restitution plan. Poor kid. He was probably riddled with guilt all the time!

  5. Cute story. Good parents, such as you, take those opportunities to TEACH the lesson, and apply the principles.
    I could just imagine Harrisons sad little face.

  6. I hate picturing him feeling left out on the cold side lunch of the room!! But how nice that he knows you and Jason love him no matter and will listen to him. The lighter backpack has got to feel nice.

  7. This story couldn’t be more perfect if some inspirational writer made it up. So great. Hard learning for parents and kids alike, but it’s the whole reason we’re here. I love his humility and truly repentant attitude. What a sweetie.

  8. Very touching Annie! Hey, our book club just finished a book called “Nurtureshock.” Very eye opening about a lot of things, including why kids lie . . . . . I hated reading this book after almost all of my childrearing days are gone . . . I kept thinking “it’s too late for me to be reading this book.” We had book club last night, and had one of the best discussion e.v.e.r about this book . . . . . . it’s not a parenting book . . . heaven knows you have enough of them 🙂 just really cool scientific informational stuff.

    • HA HA I was thinking about telling you (Annie) about this book too and the section on why kids lie! Very interesting book.

      I too think that it is sad that the school segregates the lunch room. They are causing a problem when there needs not be one!!

  9. Great story! Thanks for sharing it.
    …not shockingly, I have had similar problems with Isaac!

  10. So happy to have found your sweet site Annie. 🙂

  11. My 14 yr old got my old iPhone for Christmas. It came with certain stipulations – no texting or calling boys, no use in bedroom, and I must know the passwords to her account. Well, after a couple days last week of mommy intuition burning I pulled her phone records, didn’t recognize most of the #’s, and started calling them. Plenty of boys there. So, I prayed all day that I would say the right thing, then I talked to her after school. She cried, apologized, and handed her phone over. We put the sim card in her old basic phone, now with lots of numbers blocked. It went over much better than I expected. I think she was relieved to be caught so she could stop this lie she was stuck in. And now she knows two things: mom’s rules are serious, and mom will enforce them.

    It was a tough day for both me and her, but I was so glad that she realized her mistake, owned up to it, and accepted her consequences. Being a mom is really hard sometimes. 🙂

  12. You and your fella are really good parents! You handled that so perfectly and Harrison accepted the punishment. Homework is a huge struggle for us. One kid is so smart that she feels homework is a waste of time and the other struggles with reading so homework is torture. By they time they’re finished, I’m the one that needs chocolate.

  13. Good parenting. Your momma should be pleased!

  14. Tammara Sanchez says:

    How awful to seperate the cold lunch kids from the hot lunch ones. That is creating an issue that should not be created in the first place. You and Jason handled it so amazing by teaching Harrison a lesson behind his lie. I am sure he feels so much better and so do you. WAY TO GO ANNIE!!!

  15. You know me, Annie. Always the rabble rouser. So, my question is: Why did you hear nothing from the teacher until Harrison had been caught in a lie? Why not umpteen worksheets earlier? Is she an educator or the morality police? Okay, that last one was a bit over the top, even for me. But you see my point. And I’m with everyone else. You handled it beautifully.

  16. I hope that when my little man finds himself in a similar situation (and God knows he will), I’ll handle it as well as you did.

  17. So bittersweet. Breaks our mom hearts to see them hurt the hurt necessary for them to gain their own education & be humbled. But oh how delicious & worthwhile it is to see them “get it” and grow so much in the process. Powerful stuff! Missing you, lots lately. ::hugs:: I may not be at my computer as much lately, but you’re not far from my mind.

  18. Oh, ouch. You did that so well. Why is it that the least-fun, most horrible parenting moments are the ones that help the most? That’s a little unfair, don’t you think?

  19. You now have “The Parable of the Backpack”. Excellent teaching moment and beautifully handled. We had that situation in our house, minus the moldy lunches, last year. Unfortunately, #2 Daughter wasn’t ready to give up her lie and I had to pry the backpack off her in order to get the evidence to match the prompting I was receiving about her homework. By the sound of her, you’d have thought I was prying her arms off instead of the backpack. Not a pretty parenting moment. However, after the dust settled, she too learned a valuable lesson about lying and she’s spent the last year building up an excellent reputation. I’m so proud of her.

  20. So, my 3rd grader had a backpack like that. Not the rotten lunches, but tons of unfinished homework and other crap. Except she didn’t really feel bad about it. AT ALL. And we’re still trying to teach her that it’s not ok to stash stuff in her backpack just because she doesn’t want to deal with it. How can you use experiences to teach lessons when your kid doesn’t even care? That’s what I want to know. (And do you really have an answer, because I’d really really like to know.)