Yesterday, a friend of mine told me that swishing around in the washing machine she’d found an iPod that had fallen out of the pocket of her daughter’s shorts somewhere in the rinse cycle. Her daughter “lifted” the iPod from a cousin’s house when they were visiting. Her little “thief” is in Kindergarten, and in spite of being punished, a few days after the iPod incident, she tried to steal a pack of gum from the store. I told my friend we’d had similar problems with our oldest son, and that last summer when our oldest daughter was only six years old, she took a twenty dollar bill right off the kitchen counter, hid it, and then denied doing so for two weeks.
The only thing I remember stealing when I was a kid, is an orange flower barrette from Heather Balzazac. I don’t know what possessed me to do it. I was alone in her room and the clip was sitting right there, ripe for the taking. I had hair clips similar to it, so it wasn’t out of need or desire that I took it. Nor was I mad at Heather or trying to “get back at her” for something. Like my own children, and my friend’s daughter, I was in either Kindergarten or first grade at the time.
I think one incident – or maybe two – of low stakes stealing, followed by remorse – is normal, and that’s what I told my friend yesterday. The problem gets more complicated, however, when the family kleptomaniac doesn’t stop his (or her) life of crime.
The first incident of thievery in our house (at least that we were aware of … admittedly, I never came clean about Heather’s orange barrette and no one ever questioned me about it, although my guilt taught me that the heist wasn’t worth the payoff) was when our oldest son took a hemp bracelet from a booth at the state fair. We punished him for it … took away the bracelet, obviously … grounded him … lectured, railed, made him wear sack cloth for a couple of days. And we thought that was that.
Two years later, now that he’s old enough to know better, he took the babysitter’s iPod out of her pocketbook, keyed in her password – which he’d stealthily observed earlier in the day – (smart criminal) took a few videos of himself which he didn’t delete (dumb criminal) and then put it back. We didn’t know what he’d done until a few days later when she stumbled upon his home movies, which consisted of him making funny faces at himself and flexing his biceps.
Being a parent of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers was hard. Our youngest is four, so for another six months, I’ve still got one foot in that world, but she’s off to Kindergarten in the fall, and our oldest is going to be in fifth grade. I remember when our now seven-year old twins were still in car carrier seats, and I had to heft them around everywhere I went. And who could forget the impossibility of getting out of the house in less than an hour (oh, that diaper bag) or the way the 14 month old would sometimes wiggle so much at changing time, that I practically had to sit on him to get his new Huggies fastened.
In spite of all that hard physical labor we did in their younger years, I find that being a parent of elementary school age children is harder emotionally. What’s more is that they remember our mess-ups. I don’t know about you, but I have a fairly intact memory from age 7 on.
All those supports I had in place when the kids were younger – mommy groups, subscriptions to parenting magazines, regular playdates with friends so we could all compare notes and commiserate – are gone now, and I think it’s time I admitted that it does take a village.
Like many moms, Kathy drives a mini-van full of booster seats and Disney/Pixar DVD’s. When she’s not chauffeuring her kids, ages 10 and under, to school and activities, she teaches for Prince William County Public Schools and writes fiction, poetry, and this column about the challenges and rewards of being a mom to young children.
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