Only seconds after Magan had picked up the phone long enough to give an irritated, “Hey J,” she made an audible twist away from the microphone and gave a muffled, “So is anybody ready to fess up?” in the direction of the front yard.
“What happened now?” I asked.
“You’ll have to ask your big boys,” she replied.
The Great Whodunit of 2017 was already headed down a “Murder on the Orient Express” path, and Magan was leaving me hanging on every muffled “Simon?” “Noah?” and “Just wait until your Daddy gets home” as if Dame Agatha Christie had penned every unfinished sentence herself.
My intrigue had been peaked, but the suspense quickly turned into frustration as I watched Noah and Simon play what amounted to an uninspiring game of Clue in the yard and kitchen.
Instead of Col. Mustard with the candlestick in the conservatory, I was met with a game of two-hand-touch that had gotten a little too touchy for Simon’s liking.
Their mother had forbid tackle football a few weeks earlier, after Simon was forced to enter into the homeschooling concussion protocol for a brother’s knee to the head.
And with the additional rule requiring Noah to two-hand-touch twice to even the playing field, you would have thought there was no reason to think they couldn’t play nice.
In the middle of the second quarter, Magan had hollered for timeout so that Noah could shovel a dead mole (thanks cats) into the woods, and as he drifted across the yard (shovel in hand), Simon raised a complaint about the intensity of the touching taking place on the makeshift football field.
“OW! You slapped me,” Simon said.
From this point forward, the accounts from the players and lone eyewitness become varied and sketchy.
Like the twist in one of those Law and Order episodes, everyone claimed innocence, and a bombshell piece of evidence was poised to exonerate one alleged offender and incriminate another.
According to Noah, he had walked by silently with the shovel to give the mole its last rites.
Simon, however, said Noah had offered up a response to his complaint.
“He said, ‘Do you really want me to slap you?” Simon said inside the courtroom (aka the kitchen).
“I did not say that,” Noah said. “I don’t care how many times he says it, I didn’t say it.”
And, just like those Law and Order episodes, there was only one eyewitness and his story wasn’t adding up to the answers Magan and I needed to adjudicate the situation.
“So what were you doing?” I asked the witness.
“I was busy picking flowers out of the yard to make Mommy a bouquet,” Jesse said.
“And then what happened?” I said in my best Sam Waterston voice.
“Simon said, ‘OW! You slapped me.”
“Okay, and then what happened next?”
“Noah said, ‘Do you really want me to slap you?” Jesse said.
“Wait, that isn’t exactly what you said when we were outside” Magan objected in her best public defender’s voice. “His story has gone back and forth.”
“No Mommy,” Jesse said from the witness stand (aka the kitchen table). “He said it. I heard him.”
“I didn’t say it and I’m not admitting to it even if it means getting punished,” Noah said defiantly.
“Well,” I said, “somebody isn’t telling the truth. And nobody wants to step up and be the bigger person…Y’all leave me no choice but to send both of you to bed right after supper unless one of you wants to admit to not telling the truth.”
Neither budged, and so I held firm with my decision. No appellate ruling would be heard, and true to my word, they both went straight to bed after supper.
It was a disappointing moment for Magan and me as parents, because we had both held out hope that the guilty party would succumb to spilling the beans except he hadn’t.
As God makes clear in Hebrews 12:5-7, discipline is necessary in all our lives: “…My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And he scourges every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”
What they had both failed to realize is that I was more interested in them showing good character than punishing them for wrongdoing, and both had shown poor character in how they acted towards the other, which was the real impetus for their punishment. Hopefully one day they’ll learn that what Mom and Dad, and God, ultimately want isn’t to punish them but to teach them the discipline necessary to live a life that leads to eternity. And that Jesse is a horrible character witness.
Jason Halcombe has five sons and a daughter. He and his wife, Magan, are members of Immaculate Conception Church, Dublin.