An awkward and alarming email came through from my son's teacher last week, saying he'd been caught stealing cookies in the lunch line, and could I talk to him because it seemed a bit out of character.
I assured her I'd speak to him right away because - as I mentioned to her - everyone knows that stealing cookies in the lunch line is the first step toward a lifelong pattern of crime. One minute, your kid's pinching a few cookies, then you blink, and they're all grown up, showing colors and throwing gang signs.
Before I could get to the bottom of my kid's new hobby as a shoplifter, I visited with one of the other moms* waiting for our kids after school. I mentioned my sadness and concern over my child's dark turn toward crime, feeling like she couldn't possibly understand my strife.
I was wrong.
She had much bigger fish to fry than I had. Her kid, it turns out, was dipping his toe into a world of white supremacy - responsible for joining an exclusive group, thinly veiled under the club's Neo-Nazi-inspired name: Cookies, Crackers, and Cake (but referred to as the "CCC").
When her son's principal informed her of her kid's goings-on, she couldn't believe it. Her son, a soft-spoken, all-American boy who - until now that he's a racist - seemingly gets along with everyone, is now part of a hate-based club, whose very existence is to exclude others, depending solely on the color of their skin.
Where had we gone wrong?, we wondered to each other.
We're tucked in a beautiful middle-class suburb north of Austin, Texas, in a neighborhood where people keep their lawns (for the most part) manicured, and kids play together in cul-de-sacs.
It's a nice neighborhood - hardly any crime - but it's one of those where people park cars in the streets. So it's not like we live in an area that breeds "affluenza," oh no, most certainly not.
But it's not like the "Upper East Side," either, wherever that is, but you get my point.
And our families - mine and hers - we're totally normal. We don't pop pills or have keggers. We're the type of people that do crafts, and wear lacy boot toppers, and have girls' night, heading home by 9pm - sometimes as late as 10pm if we're feeling extra frisky.
We're not the type of moms to raise robbers and racists.
That night, I asked my son about his theft earlier that day. His eyes filled with tears as he explained to me that he'd distractedly opened the package while he stood in line, talking to his friends.
"There are two lunch ladies," he told me, "A nice one and a mean one. I was in the mean one's line, because it was shorter," he said. He told me that he'd caught himself after he'd opened the package, and realized what he'd done (opening the package before paying is a big no-no - a rule that's strictly enforced).
He folded over the top of the package and held it tight with his hand.
"Why are you holding those like that?" The mean lunch lady snapped. "Take your hand off."
She noticed they'd been opened. He told me he'd gotten panicky when she asked him if he'd paid for them, and said that yes, he had (a lie). She checked his account, and sure enough: he hadn't paid. But thankfully there was money in his account, so she rang him up and that was that.
Just a misunderstanding.
Talking this over with my friend* the next day, she told me she'd gotten to the bottom of her son's criminal case, and she found out that he genuinely was a member of a club that glorified cookies, crackers, and cakes.
Completely understandable for the child of someone like my friend, who is a delightful cook, to want to be part of of group that sings the praises of baked goods.
The club, as it turns out, was an innocent creation formed in the lunchroom among a small group of kids eating only the dessert portions of their lunch box contents. The brainchild of a couple messy-haired boys who love their share of sugary treats.
Whispers of the now infamous "CCC" caught the attention of the school's leadership, sending them scrambling into a flurry of activity to squelch potential leaks to the media.
The boys were pulled into the offices and reprimanded, their bewildered eyes looking at the principals, and each other, dumbfounded and confused.
It was all just a misunderstanding.
Let's all just take a freakin' minute and settle the eff down. Get the whole story before alerting the authorities and freaking the hell out. Good grief.
I'll be sipping an extra-juicy martini tonight to celebrate the fact that my and my friend's kids aren't the riff-raff we thought they were last week, and wipe my brow in relief of dodging another parental bullet.
*I'm not using names in this article, in an effort to protect our families. But the mom's name rhymes with "Schmennifer."
Find out more about my childhood and its impact on my ability to be a mother in my book, You Should Write A Book! True Tales Of An Unstable Life. You can order it right here!