“So Lilly, what did you tell Father Kris?” I asked our 15-year-old daughter recently at a local coffee shop. We had just picked her up from a confirmation class retreat, which included confessions with our parish priest. This sacrament is shrouded with an impenetrable veil of secrecy, but we knew Lilly would tell us.
“Well,” she revealed between slurps of hot cocoa, “I told him, ‘Bless me father for I have sinned, it has been eight years since my last confession …’”
“Yes, yes, we know that part … we want to know what you confessed to?”
I felt twinge of fear when I realized that our youngest daughter may shock me with her answer, but Lilly responded, “I told him that I’ve been disrespectful to you guys a lot over the years.”
Relieved, I plopped another puddle of ketchup alongside my fries, and let my mind wander back to Lilly’s first confession to Father Jim when we were stationed in Virginia eight years ago.
Second grade was a dicey year for Lilly. Emerging from the shadow of her dominant older siblings, Lilly was making her mark in Mrs. Ryan’s class at Fairfield Elementary School. However, it still wasn’t clear whether Lilly’s “mark” would be top grades, or graffiti on the girl’s bathroom wall.
My Navy husband, Francis, was deployed for a year, and I was doing my best to hold it all together. Between the exterminator bills, scout meetings, dog walks, soccer games, dryer lint, piano lessons, sinus infections, and football practices, there wasn’t much time left for mother-daughter chats about right and wrong.
As the third child, Lilly often got the short end of the stick, but she never once stopped to ask, “What about me?” With a smile full of awkward teeth, a fistful of her favorite Polly Pockets, and a carefree attitude, Lilly was easy to love. But as a happy-go-lucky kid, Lilly was also easy to overlook.
Until one day when I got a call from the school.
“Mrs. Molinari,” Principal Stubblefield told me one afternoon, “we think Lilly has forged your signature. Can you come in?” Apparently, Lilly had bossed a boy on the playground, and was told to have a parent sign the Incident Report. Rather than draw any unnecessary attention to herself, Lilly decided to sign it for me.
Problem was, she couldn’t write in cursive. So she conned her older brother into showing her “how Mommy signs her name,” then cut out his best attempt (white paper), and taped it onto the Incident Report (green paper).
Not exactly foolproof, but pretty sneaky for a six-year old.
As parents tend to do, I panicked. Thanks to my parental neglect, Lilly was now destined to rotate through dangerous county jails, maximum security facilities, and sketchy halfway houses on her way to a life of hard crime. My dreams for her future were suddenly reduced to hoping she’d get her GED while serving out a sentence for Grand Theft Auto.
In an attempt to set things right, I asked Principal Stubblefield to rough Lilly up a little bit. Well, not exactly, but we planned that she would call Lilly to the Office (every kid’s worst nightmare), sit her down across from the big desk, and open the gigantic rulebook to the page that says dishonest kids get expelled from school.
In case that didn’t scare her straight, I took Lilly to her first confession. I stood in the back of the church, as she walked down the center isle to sit in a pew with Father Jim. I couldn’t hear what was said, but I saw Lilly’s little head bobbing as she told Father Jim a long story. He listened intently and murmured back to her in solemn tones. Seeing Lilly confess, I bowed my own head and admitted that I should’ve paid more attention to my little girl.
At the coffee shop, Francis finished the last of his tuna melt and asked Lilly what she was given as a penance. Rolling her eyes, Lilly reported, “Between now and Easter, I’m supposed to perform acts of respect toward my parents.”
Despite our own parenting missteps, Lilly has turned out to be a pretty honest kid, and we realize that these moments of contrition have helped all of us to be better people.
As for those “acts of respect”, I confess, we’re still waiting.