Chapter 5: Trips, Stumbles & Falls or, In My Son's Case-Three Curve Balls!
Curve Ball Number One
change, and have been doing so for as long as I can remember. When I was single, and working, taking the bus and going to
the laundromat, it was essential. I did not give up the habit, even after I got married, moved into a house, had a washing
machine and drove everywhere.
When my son was little, he would watch me add up the change. He loved to empty out
the jar, and help separate all the quarters. Those were his favorite.
When he got a little older, five or six, he stopped
emptying out the jar, and would watch me count only occasionally. He had moved on, so I thought, to other interests.
day, when I went to deposit some loose change, I found that all my quarters were missing. No stranger would have come in to
steal only the quarters from a jar kept in my drawer next to the bed. My husband had no need of quarters, but I called and
checked, just in case. I knew instinctively, it was my son. Why? Did he not know that taking something without asking was
wrong? Had I failed to convey that? Did he think he was doing something other than stealing, because it involved Mom? Was
this going to be the start of a pattern? A thousand questions, and then what to do next?
I sat on the bed and thought
for a long time. First, of course, I would have to make sure that in fact, it was my son who took the quarters. Then, what
to say to him? What was most important? That stealing was wrong? Did I want to know why? Did I want to find out what he planned
to do with the quarters? What, for example would have been my response, had he said he was going to give the money to a poor
person (not beyond the realm of possibility for my son). Would that have made my response different? Did I want him to explain
why he didn't just ask me for the quarters? Did I want to create a consequence for his stealing? What would that consequence
be? What did I want to know? And what did I really want to say to my six year old?
about a half hour collecting my views, and deciding on an approach, I went up to his room. I looked around and it did not
take long to find the missing quarters, tucked in the corner of a box, near his bed. I took the quarters back and put them
on top of my bed. I went and picked him up from school, said nothing, drove him home and then asked him to come into our bedroom.
He walked in, saw the quarters, and turned beet red.
You know what? I said. I am so sad today. I am so sad
that you stole my quarters.
(I used the word "stole" instead of "took" on purpose). I didn't
think you would do that. If you needed money, you could have asked me. But you did not ask, you just took. And that makes
me so sad. I thought we could trust each other. I trusted you, and you could trust me. But, today, I'm not sure. I wanted
you to know how I felt. And with that, I left him and walked out of the room. I heard him run out of my room crying.
He stayed in his room and cried for a long time. Finally, I went in and sat down and put my arm around him.
feel awful that I'm so sad, don't you? And he nodded. I waited a while and then continued. You know why stealing
is so wrong? It is wrong because when we steal we take from someone, something that person owns and cares
about very much, and we hurt him or her when we do that. You have no right to take what belongs to someone else, no matter
how much you might want it. Besides, would you want to hurt someone and make him or her cry? He shook his head no.
You took the quarters because?
I just wanted to have them.
You just wanted to have them, but, that's
stealing-they belonged to me, right? He nodded.
Were you going to spend them? He shook his head no.
You were just going to keep them for yourself? He nodded.
But, they were mine and important to me. You
also took something away from me, even more important than the quarters, and do you know what that was? He looked up
in surprise, and nodded no.
You took away my trust in you. That is why I'm so sad. He started to cry again.
But, I said, I have an idea! If we make a brand new pact, we can start all over again! I won't ever steal
anything from you, even your stuffed monkey that I love so much, and you won't ever steal anything from me even my
quarters that you love so much. How's that?
He smiled for the first time.
I won't ever steal from anyone, and you won't ever steal from anyone, either.
He nodded with great enthusiasm.
And I can trust you again.
And he beamed!
See, I said. Being honest feels
so much better! You don't feel yucky and you don't make other people feel yucky either, especially, Mommy! Right? And the
look on his face was indescribable relief! So, let's give each other a huge hug, erase this day, (which we did with big
hand swings) and start all over again!
Can I put all the quarters
back in your jar?
I'm going to count and tell you how many you have.
I'm going to put them all back in with George Washington facing up.
Curve Ball Number Two
It was summer. It was around 10pm.
I was cleaning up. My husband was in California on business. He had called to check in and chat. So, I walked around talking
to him while I put things away. At one point, I walked onto our enclosed porch. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw
something move in the dark outside. I continued talking and looking. Finally, I went closer to the window and there, to my
absolute shock huddled in the dark, in the corner of our little outside bench sat my son locked in an embrace with a girl!!!!
I stopped dead cold, in mid sentence and said to my husband--I can't believe what I just saw! I'll have to call you back!
My mind was racing! Firstly, who knew my son had a girlfriend? Not I! Secondly, who knew this girl? Not I! Thirdly, who
knew he was sitting right outside our house with her? Not I, until that moment!!! What was going on here???!! Did I miss Chapter
Two? Did I stay in the park with my dog too long? Was I that clueless???!!
I walked back onto the porch and tapped very
hard on the window. Like birds fluttering away, she jumped up and flew back towards next door? Why was she going next door??!!
They did not have a teenage daughter! Aaggh!! And my son? He walked through the kitchen door with a smile and a nonchalant
hi! Double Aaggh!!
Sit down, we need to talk.
Who was that girl?
And she was on her break??!! He laughed.
Listen, I said. There is a cardinal rule
in this house. And that is- no sneaking around. We meet, we greet, we introduce!
He looked so relieved.
you were going to be angry that I was with her.
I am not angry that you were with her. I am upset that you were sneaking
around with her. So, here's the drill. I want to meet her and greet her and you're going to introduce us. If you are old enough
to cuddle with someone in our backyard, on a bench in the dark than you are old enough to say, Mom, this is so and so.
Ok, next time she babysits.
No, honey, Right now. Please go and tell her that I want to meet her, IN FRONT of our
house! Or, I can go next door-her choice.
Off he went. She came over. I went out and gave her a big friendly hello,
to show I wasn't going to bite! And after I got a name attached to a face, I left them to talk alone.
My son later
told me that she had been babysitting for a while and she and my son struck up a friendship (Now it made sense why he'd spend
so much time outside, playing T ball
with the kids next door) that culminated in the long good-bye on the bench that
night. Her family was moving to Boston, and she was babysitting for the last time.
There was nothing about this, he could
not have shared.
This would be an on-going issue until he went off to college. If I had a daughter
it would have been a non starter-of course, to meet any boy she happened to be seeing. But a son usually goes over to a girl's
house, and so, it became more complicated. Still, I felt very strongly about being introduced, and seeing a face. So, at some
point, my son brought every girl he dated into my kitchen to say hello before going off to watch a video, to see a movie,
or meet friends. I made very clear to my son that I was a great believer in honoring privacy, but not of hiding or sneaking,
or running away.
When he went off college, his life became his own. But, when he came home to visit and was out
late at night, I did insist that he call me when he was in his car, actually on his way back. That was pure consideration
and respect. He will still do that and he is now 23 years old.
Curve Ball Number Three
had gone through Drivers Ed., the required hours and now, my son had his provisional license. I owned a Honda Odyssey (still
do) a much bigger car than my husband's PT Cruiser that my son learned to drive in. Nonetheless, my son would borrow my car,
when his father was not at home. One afternoon, he took it to the gym. Two hours later, he came rushing through the front
Mom! You've got to come outside. I need to show you something!
I dropped what I was doing in the kitchen,
and followed him out. He pointed to my Honda, and there before me stood my car with the entire back smashed in, window completely
Oh my G-d, I exclaimed, what happened?
Someone smashed into the back. That's how I found it!
When I got out of the gym!
Did they leave a note?
Someone just smashed the
car, like that, and took off?
I looked at my son. I looked at the car. I looked back at my son. I knew
in an instant he was lying. I just knew.
I said, Well, we're going to have to call the insurance company and file a report.
I cannot believe this has happened to my car! Thank goodness, you weren't in it!
I know, he replied.
My husband came home. He looked at the car. My son told him the same story.
Do you think he's telling the truth?
I asked my husband, afterwards.
No. My husband replied.
So, after dinner, my husband said, Let's go to the
scene of the accident. I want to see where this happened and you can explain everything before we call the insurance company.
Do we really have to go tonight?
Yes, we do. It's important.
So, we all drove to the parking lot. My
son pointed out where he was parked, and what according to him happened. My husband said very little, just looked around.
Then we all got back into the car, and my husband said, You know what is most bothersome about this?
That someone would do something like this and not take responsibility, leave a note, something. That is what bothers me
My son was silent. I was silent. We came home, I felt terrible. I knew my son had lied! I could see it
in his eyes. And, he was now a teenager, with a license. What to do? Again, sitting around, my so wise husband repeated again
how troublesome it was that someone had not left a note-had not been honorable, even if they were scared about the expense.
Again, my son nodded and said nothing.
Later that night, after my son had gone up to his room, I sat at the edge
of the bed. He was no longer a little boy. He would have to come to grips with his own set of ethics. And if he continued
the lie, we would be back at square one? I could say-Wait a minute! Nothing adds up here. We don't think you're telling
the whole truth. I could say Look, we'd rather you told us what really happened. We won't get mad if you tell us
But, my husband and I both agreed it was important to wait him out. The full weight of moral responsibility
had to be in his lap with no prompting from us. This was a test. A big test.
I kept hoping that he'd walk into
our room. I waited for long time. He didn't. I was so sad. I cried. I didn't sleep well at all.
The following morning,
a soft knock woke us up around 7am. In walked our son.
I have something to tell you guys.
My heart jumped!
I actually stopped breathing.
Look, no one smashed into me. (YES, YES, YES!!!!! I screamed inside) I didn't gage the
power well enough, and when I put the car in reverse, I pushed down too far on the pedal and smashed right into the car parked
I started to cry.
Was the other car damaged? My husband asked?
No. I got out and looked. It was
a huge Suburban with a mammoth bumper. Nothing happened to his car at all, but the bumper was so high it smashed your window
Mom. Anyway, it wasn't anyone else's fault. It was mine. Sorry guys. You can take some of my savings for the repair.
jumped up, crying and smiling and hugged him so hard! My husband told him he was proud of him. I told him that this showed
he was on his way to becoming an ethical person. I smiled all day!
If we want to make sure our very young children
never cross the street without holding our hands, we make it non-negotiable. We probably won't waste time discussing the ramifications
of not holding hands with our toddler. Such a physical safety rule has to be obeyed before it's understood. A toddler doesn't
need, nor will he/she get the Zen of Survival!
Behavior, on the other hand, has a philosophical base and therefore
does need to be understood. There are reasons why we act the way we do. The more we can explain why we behave a certain way
in society and towards others, and why any one action is right or wrong, ethical or unethical, honest or dishonest, the more
likely our children will develop a sound behavior philosophy of their own.
When my six year old stole my quarters,
I wanted him to feel sorry for making me sad and guilty for stealing- a step towards empathy, and moral decision-making.
I also wanted him to know redemption, and second chances--a step towards forgiveness and optimism.
I could have given my six year old a time out, or taken away a favorite toy, or shown extreme anger, and he might
have gotten the point about stealing. But, that was not my philosophical intent or approach. I wanted him to learn from this
that honesty felt so much better than dishonesty, that my having trust in him was far more important than having the quarters,
and that making others sad, especially Mom, was a terrible feeling.
When my teenager hid with the girl from next
door, I wanted him to understand acting openly and taking responsibility for choices and actions-a step
towards emotional maturity and courage.
I could have told my son that I had no intention of letting him see
this girl from next door, since he had been so sneaky. But, what I wanted him to get was that with every freedom comes a responsibility.
That's why the adage-you should only have as much freedom as you can handle, is so true. Dating comes with responsibilities-to
us, to the girl, to him. Sneaking around is running away. And, running away is cowardly and immature. He needed to trust and
respect us enough to be open and up front. Even if we disagreed with him, he had to risk facing that disagreement and be able
to discuss it. That's what emotional maturity is all about.
When my son lied about his car accident, I wanted him
to do battle alone with his conflicts of fear of consequence vs. wanting to be honorable. I wanted him to need tell the truth
more than lie and keep a secret.
I could have questioned my son the minute he told me to come outside and look at the
car. After all, I knew there and then that he was not telling the truth. I could have called him on it and said, You know
what? I don't believe a word you just told me. But, that would have robbed him of the chance to come to terms with his lie
all by himself. And my larger philosophical point was that at that age, it was time to see what was in the computer, and whether
he had it in him to do the right thing. He had to struggle with this all by himself, and find out who he really was.
Kids must develop a philosophy, not just a reaction to rules. In order to do that they must hear and understand ours. It
will offer them an approach and a guide.Not only will it help them define Manners and Money, it will also help them make difficult
choices and hopefully, keep them from bad decisions. Every time we can explain a why? Ask a what if? and offer our own opinions,
we are adding to their understanding and clarity. And most importantly, when we can answer why we hold a truth to
be self-evident, then we have a philosophy to share with our children while they are young, while they are still near us,
while they have our ear, and while we still have theirs. They also need the time and space to take responsibility for their
words and their actions. A young person cannot form a philosophy of life until he/she have rummaged through their mind, and
felt their heart. Sometimes the best thing we can do, as in letting our kids take responsibility, is let them think and feel
through the moral implications that come along with their choices. Kids not only want to do what is right, they want desperately
for us to feel proud of them, and for them to feel good about themselves.
So, remember. Whenever
our children trip, stumble and fall, or we get thrown a curve ball, if we first count to ten, think over our philosophy-not
our anger or hurt or fear-then ask what is it that we really want to convey, we will know how to respond, and our children
will get it! They will surprise! We will survive! Next Installment #35 The Last Word: Asking For Birth Control?