Anyone who's ever been a kid knows mother's intuition is no myth. Mothers can figure out amazing things, all on a hunch. I am ecstatic to report this sixth sense is not physiologically tied to childbirth. Like low patience, dog-like hearing, and thirst for wine... it just happens. I know this because my sons are adopted, yet cursed by my superior maternal detection skills. My own mother is like a God when it comes to sorting through smoke and mirrors. She could spy a dust particle out of place, trap you in your own web of sidestepping, and pepper you with questions before you knew what hit you. It's no accident out of four kids she's produced me, one litigator, one decorated military intelligence offer, and one so diplomatic he can quietly redirect any conversation to buy time to think. I was so nervous I would fall short in her shadow.
As out of control as my sons can be, you'd think their stunts would be hard to miss. At times, this is true. Often though, the slippery slope of snag, cover up and sobbing confession is all tipped off with the slightest out of place toothbrush, or betrayed by a prematurely-replaced paper towel roll. At times the red flags are blaring meteors in the sky. Other times they're so mundane an untrained eye could look right past them. Nothing good ever comes from a paper towel replaced "just because." The burning phrase, "Why is that there..." pops in mind, and all the little alarms start tripping. That's when I kick in. I am: CSI Mom.
The twist in my spin off series, as all spin offs must have, is that a Children's Scene Investigator Mom figures out much more than who did the crime. Sometimes just seeing that something is awry is the payoff for the constant radar scan. Hell, you usually know all along who did what. You've got a limited pool of felons. It's not like you're hunting down Keyser Söze, just the other usual suspects. Resolving the what that the particular who did forms the riddle. And then the race to avoid permanent damage to any person, neighbor's home, or sibling. Game on.
Look, we're all in this together. If we're going to outsmart these little urchins to minimize our losses (and homeowners' liability), we need to work as a team. We need to share knowledge with each other like the emerging village elders we are. To start, here's my proposed topic list for the introductory course CSI Mom 101:
Question the obvious
I know I'd never leave the nail clippers out on the sink for fear they'd fall into dangerous little hands. Yet, there they sat out in plain view when I got up one morning. So, obviously, severe damage must have been done to something in the bathroom with the aid of flashlight by a child trying to avoid the "bed" part of bed time. I was not jumping to conclusions, just cutting to the chase. "What in God's name were you thinking going near the bathroom curtains with my nail clippers, using a flashlight?" This isn't rocket science. With dramatic tension needed, it's more art than science.
Leverage their own behaviors (a.k.a. "give them enough rope...")
This is a little interrogation technique my mother used flawlessly on me. I couldn't wait to be a mom to see if it would work as well. This works best on children that think they are soooooo much keener than you are. So if you have a little smart alek, or a tween (even teen) dripping with condescension, this is an Ace in the Hole move.
I had no idea whether the curtains were touched. It could have been those, the shower curtain, bathmat, a hidden report card. But to get to the bottom I needed to get going, and Son1 lets his little tween attitude get in his own way every time. So when I said, "What in God's name were you thinking going near the bathroom curtain..." He could barely contain his hardwired need to talk back. He smugly tossed out "I didn't touch the curtain, I cut the RUG!" He delighted in me being wrong just long enough to snag himself. (insert Homer Simpson "DOH!") They're like criminals that feel the need to brag about their crime in movie endings, just long enough to allow the hero to show up. And, hey, Son1, thanks for that Target gift card from your Easter basket that I'll be taking now to buy a rug.
NOTHING ever happens "just because."
Show me a paper towel roll replaced by my kids, and I'll show you the remains of a toppled fish tank. Wastebasket emptying is not hygiene for them. It's simple evidence-waste management. Look in the Hefty bag your children suddenly got religion to take to the curb, and you'll be validated that you were right in thinking you could not possibly have consumed 4 dozen Keebler 100 calorie packs already, fudge stripes or not. I was assured I don't have dementia- I have sneaky snack-glomming kids. In the scheme of things, it was a relief.
Special side note re: laundry. If laundry is actually in the hamper because a child cleaned his room "just because," that laundry is harboring an ungodly secret. I guarantee it. Step away and call the FBI because Hoffa very well may be in there.
Go with your gut, even when you think your gut sounds crazy
To this day, Son1 wants to know how I knew he had gone into his bank without permission early one morning to swipe all the birthday cash and gift cards he had. He's convinced I saw the stash of funds bulging in his pocket. He thinks that, because I told him that. The real story? I had no bloody clue he had a thing in his pockets. He just seemed to take a minute too long to get ready for school, a second too long answering when I asked why he was still upstairs. My gut told me something was off. Even I thought it was a bit paranoid but, "brush your teeth after you empty your pockets and show me your hands," came out with conviction. He looked like a deer in head lights and tossed what I thought was a shank toward the dog bowl. Okay, so maybe we're watching Locked Up Abroad too much. It was a plastic gift card. It was also wrapped in two 20's. Whew- no shanks.
And so, on my little gut feeling that maybe he had a spare silly band in pocket, I inadvertently broke up a shadowy ring of preteen 7-11 visits. Towards the end of the school year, Son1 was getting some increasing freedom around the neighborhood and our small town. Turns out he was using it (along with his B-day money and more than just a smidge of his little brother's) living the high life buying rounds of drinks for his Mountain Dew loving crew. Once I had him on the ropes, the confession finally tumbled out. "You had no change AT ALL each day?" I asked. "Well yeah, but I put some in the cans at the counter, and then tipped the guy." So he helped the ASPCA and tipped the convenience store clerk? If nothing else, he's a generous thief, the Robin Hood of the U-13 club.
Using tattlers ("state's witness")
You may be sitting there thinking, "Hmmm what's with the 12 yr old? Her 10 year old must be an angel though. He was never mentioned." Well, the thing is, Son2 does pull some stunts, but by and large he flies under the radar. And when confronted, he crumbles in seconds flat. There's really not much CSI lab work with that one. Plus, he's a bit of a snitch so his angle is to work plea deals. "If I tell you what he did with the dog's leash at the park, can I go back on Club Penguin in 2 days not 7?" In reality, I'm sure that mindset should worry me more.
That wraps up CSI 101 for now. I hope these methods will serve you well. I'm considering quarterly workshops in advance detection techniques. Perhaps we can seat a panel of experts for CSI Mom Q&A sessions. If interested, please submit your intuition's moment of victory. We live in a world riddled with flimsy cover ups and persistent attempts to skirt the rules. Be vigilent, be smart, go with your gut. And maybe for safety sake, check your homeowners' policy. Better safe than sorry.
Now... which Who song should I make my theme?