Monday, June 19, 2006

The Carwash Caper

We were presented with another parenting challenge over the weekend, a moral and ethical dilemma. This was nothing life-altering, but it was concerning nonetheless.
A young woman of our acquaintance was ticketed for speeding, 85 miles per hour in a 60-mile-per-hour zone. Our teenage daughter was in the car at the time. The fine for an infraction of this magnitude is hefty, and our young driver simply doesn’t have the money to pay it in a timely manner. For reasons known only to her, she was not comfortable asking relatives to help her, so she appeared to be in a bit of a crisis. Then, she formulated a plan: She would have a Saturday carwash to raise money for the fine. She asked my daughter and some of her friends to help.
When this idea was presented to us, I was ambivalent. There was an underlying sense that this was wrong somehow. I couldn’t articulate it, though. I appreciated the ingenuity and resourcefulness involved. If she couldn’t pay the fine, she probably would be compelled to work it off, anyway; although, that likely would be through some community service. I guess we could stretch the imagination far enough to paint a carwash as community service, but that’s another argument. To me, it’s amazing that she got a business to allow her to use its parking lot for this scheme. Without asking directly, I was troubled about how she must have pitched the idea. Obstacles were cleared and the plan moved forward.
We asked our daughter how they planned to drum up business. How would they attract customers? Would they tell people they’re raising money to pay this girl’s speeding ticket? No. They just would hold up “car wash” signs. With a distressing undercurrent of moral ambiguity, we dropped our daughter off at the appointed place. A handful of her friends were there, willing to help.
Several components came into play. First, the speedy driver was taking my daughter and the girls on a fun summertime outing when she was stopped by the police. So, we had a sense that we should be supportive. Second, this was an opportunity for some clean fun in the sun and upon examination appeared to be relatively harmless. Third, our daughter might have been embarrassed if she were to be the only girl in the group not to participate. Finally, we genuinely like the driver and know some details of her personal life. She was willing to work this out herself and not ask for a handout. So, that was in its own way admirable.
As parents, we did feel a responsibility to check on their health and well-being periodically. So, about forty-five minutes after we dropped our daughter off, we drove by the carwash. Front and center was a girl from our group holding up a sign that said “Send us to cheer camp.” A parental powwow of less than one minute ensued. The discussion was not about whether our daughter would be leaving immediately, but whether we should say something to the rest of the group about their deceptive ways. There was no more ambiguity, no more middle ground. They were misleading people to get their money. The sign was carefully made, so someone planned it this way. There was no outrage, but there was disappointment. There also was one obvious thing to do.
We turned around, called our daughter to the car and said, “Come with us. We need you to come home now.” That was it. She looked puzzled, but complied without complaint. When she got in the car, she asked what was going on. We asked if she knew about the sign. She said no. We believed her because she was with the buckets, towels and hoses about seventy-five yards away from the signs. When we told her what we saw, she simply said “Oh.” The drive home was routine.
I’m proud of her, because she seemed to understand instantly what the issue was. My kids know that nothing upsets me more than lying. The fact that she was participating in a big lie (we are accepting that she was doing so unwittingly) made my moral compass spin. I think we did something right, although I’m still not so sure allowing her to participate in the first place was such a good idea.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling - that's what being a parent is all about - this seemed wrong and it was wrong