Just before settling down to write this post I came across an article about Doris Payne, an 85-year-old International Jewel thief. Earlier this month she was nabbed for stealing from Saks, and was discovered to have a number of warrants for her arrest. She’s gorgeous, poised and now behind bars.
Which brings me to my little Zoe…my little thief.
It’s hard for me to imagine anything bad about my girls. I birthed the little cherubs and I’ve watched them figure out this vast confusing world of do’s and don’ts. They are my little innocent creatures because they haven’t learned how to do bad things, right?
I learned recently that they too are inherently flawed creatures from birth (sinners if I might be so frank). I know…I know…not only does it sound harsh to label your own kid a “sinner,” but it’s also not a PC term either. But trust me, it simply translates to “someone who is willfully disobedient”. It’s this universal and innate nature that encouraged my Zoe to try her hand at thievery.
A few Saturday’s ago, Jada ran upstairs with what looked like play doctor tools. She held a plastic syringe and plastic reflex hammer tightly in the palm of her hand while she wildly gesticulated about some new revelation she had to make known. As she waved her hands (just shy of my nose), I realized that I, the gatekeeper of all toy purchases, had not purchased those toys. In fact, I’m pretty much aware of every toy item they own and when it was purchased or gifted.
I asked Jada where she had gotten the toys and she disclosed that the toys were from Zoe. I turned to Zoe, who at this point was looking rather sheepish. It didn’t take much probing to uncover that the toys were taken from school the previous day.
I launched into an entire discussion about why it is bad behavior to take things that not only don’t belong to her, but also denies other kids the opportunity to play with them. We also discussed how Mommy and Daddy work so hard to buy the things she likes (as evidenced by the room full of toys downstairs). She nodded with understanding and promised to return the toys to school.
Phew! Crisis averted…
…well, not really.
I don’t know if my sweet-innocent- first-born- baby- girl, who could do no willful wrong, was testing me to see JUST how much I would actually notice her bouts of thievery, but on Sunday afternoon the bandit struck again! Upon returning from church I realized that she had a baby bottle stashed in her Sunday school bag, just underneath her bible stories and drawings of Jesus (how ironic)!
I was so confused! Had I crafted the entire interaction that transpired the previous morning? Did she think thievery at school was off-limits, but church (of all places) was fair game! Did I botch the explanation?
As I held the bottle in my hand she immediately began explaining that she would return the bottle next Sunday. I could see the guilt and remorse pulsing through her body and probably knotting up her little tummy. It’s painful to be exposed for wrongdoing. I wanted to keep it between the two of us, but I knew that I needed to alert the Big Boss for back-up…Papa Phil.
I encouraged her to disclose her behavior to Daddy, but the utter embarrassment was too much for her. She cried and tried to hide. I wanted so much to provide her the cover…but I didn’t.
Papa Nevels and I stood strong and united. We chided her behavior and likened it to the behavior of Jade in the book “The Missing Cupcake Mystery.” Spoiler Alert: Jade is the cupcake thief who confesses to her family. Though she disappoints her parents, they are proud of her for coming forward to tell the truth.
We read the book as a family (in case any other Nevels member required a moral refresher), and Zoe hugged me and tried to hide in my arms again. This time I let her. She’d suffered enough. As we cuddled, I told her that I didn’t like the behavior but that I absolutely loved her!
She assured me that she would return both items to their respective places…and she did.
In fact, after each offense was resolved she would return to me explaining her good deed, beaming and proud. Apparently, redemption feels good no matter how old you are.
From that day forward she has been positively fervent about the importance of not taking things that don’t belong to her. In Zoe’s word’s, “it’s just not nice…it’s not right…we don’t do that kind of thing!” Then again, maybe those were my hasty and awkward words as I struggled to weave moral fiber into a 4-year-old.
I shudder to think how small decisions (like lifting a baby bottle from the church toy bin), can lead to bigger decisions (like becoming an International Jewel Thief). How would Zoe’s moral compass have changed if I hadn’t caught the second offense? Am I prepared to confront a third offense should it arise?
More and more I realize that this parenthood thing is not something to take lightly. It requires constant watering (teaching) and pruning (reprimanding) in order for our little garden of flowers to bloom in the soil that they’re rooted in.
I sure hope that’s the last lesson we’ll have to teach the girls about theft, but just in case, I’ll have a new answer locked and loaded in my back pocket.
Are you vigilant over your children? Are you actively guiding their moral compass?
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