I received one of the worst calls a parent can get last week. I glanced at the phone and saw that it was the Junior High. I assumed it was a robo-call. Alas, it was not to be so.
"I'm very sorry to tell you this, but..."
Now, friends, let me just pause here for one second and tell you that what goes through your mind in that moment is absolutely a worst case scenario. It just is. You can't help it! I expected them to tell me that she had been lost in a tragic dodge ball accident and they needed me to come identify the body.
As it turns out, it may have been just slightly worse than the death of my little angel.
"...your daughter threw away her retainer at lunch and didn't tell anyone until all of the lunch trash from all four grades had been collected and taken out. You're going to have to come and dig through the trash with her to find it."
I quite sensibly replied, "She should do it herself since she is the one who threw it away." The secretary informed me that she didn't think my daughter would do it by herself. I believe she was most likely right.
I must admit that the human being in me let a curse word slip out after I hung up the phone.
Don't ask me why, but for some reason, I thought we would be going through the trash indoors. When I arrived, the secretary informed me that we would have to have the janitor get the trash out of the dumpster outside and we would have to sort through it out there on the ground... in the freezing cold. I was not pleased. I also didn't have an extra $300 for a replacement retainer, so there was really no option.
The only upside? They had rubber gloves we could wear. I put them on over my winter gloves and said, "Let's get to this, kid!"
As it turns out, junior high trash is pretty much... ummmm, slop. Pigs would have loved my job that day. I did not love my job that day. It was one of those days when you regret your choice to become a parent. "I wouldn't be out back by the dumpster digging through trash if I didn't have kids," I mused. Then I looked at my poor sweet kid who was nearly in tears and banished the thought.
She loves that retainer. It's really a bite plate which keeps her bottom teeth from hitting the roof of her mouth and cutting it, but it essentially looks like a retainer, so that's what we all call it. She wanted braces so badly, but her 12 year molars weren't in yet, plus we couldn't afford braces for her after just shelling out $5,000 for her sister's, so we decided the bite plate would at least address her most pressing problem. She is only required to wear it at night, but she's so happy to have anything resembling braces that she wears it day and night. She'd only had it a few weeks.
"Mom, I didn't mean to throw it away," she choked with watery eyes.
"I know you wouldn't throw it away on purpose, honey. We just have to find it, that's all."
I knew her poor stomach had probably been in knots, wondering how much trouble she would be in with mom and dad. As I stood there contemplating the possibility that the people at the nearby Aldi's were likely wondering if we were homeless and foraging for food, I decided to give my daughter a pass on this one. I didn't yell. I didn't complain. I minimized my displeasure to mild facial display and frequent sighs of exasperation.
The janitor had a broad idea of which of the nine bags of rejected lunch might contain the buried treasure. The first bag out had broken and sploshed all over the ground. It was a mishmash of chocolate milk, salad, orange slices, and cheeseburgers with soggy buns from the chocolate milk. It was truly disgusting, but we knew we had to find the thing. He pulled out two bags and I was able to wrangle the third from the outside of the dumpster. We started digging and putting all slop into new trash bags in cans the janitor brought out.
It seemed like days, but I think we were out there a little over an hour. These were LARGE bags.
One bag down. Take a deep breath. Two bags down. My daughter found the rest of her lunch, but no retainer. I was already working on bag three and bag four... well, I was going to have to actually get down in the dumpster for that bag and I really didn't want to do that. ARGH! Are you kidding?
"Okay," I said, "we've got to be close, so let's just keep digging. Hey, let's sing a song to Jesus and see if he'll help us find it." Truly, it was not with great faith that I suggested this. It was more out of boredom and for entertainment. "Ohhhh, Lorrrrrd, please help us to find this retainer in the garbage, pleeeease help us Jeeeeesus." It was awful - horribly out of tune and ridiculous sounding.
I looked down and couldn't believe my eyes. There it was.
"Oh my God! Here it is! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I prayed we would find it and we did. Let's clean up this mess and go!"
My daughter's response melted my heart. She said, "Mom, I prayed all day too. But I didn't pray that we'd find it, I prayed that you wouldn't be mad at me."
I could barely choke back the tears. In that moment, I realized that this wasn't about a material thing. It was about love, anger, and grace toward those we love. She is a good kid and a joy in my life and in that moment, I knew I made the right decision not to be mad about the situation, but to show her what a mother's love was really made of - the willingness to dig through sloppy trash for her daughter's mistake - and be kind about it.
I had to pick up the food on the ground so the school wouldn't be plagued by ravenous critters and my plastic gloves scraped the ground and tore at the fingertips. I couldn't even feel my fingers anymore, so I had no idea that my winter gloves underneath were soaked with slop liquids. I threw them in the trash on the way out and had no qualms about taking a loss on the $1.50 Walmart gloves. That, I could afford!
What would you have done? Grace? Punishment? Bought the new retainer? We thoroughly bleached and scrubbed that puppy, let me tell you. I swear, it's cleaner than brand new. And I love my daughter no less than before the dumpster diving. She's totally worth it.