Yesterday, as I guided Lainey back toward our car after her friend’s birthday party, I noticed she was suspiciously clutching a small bulge hidden between her dress and her denim vest. She obviously didn’t want me to see it and, at the onset of my curiosity, she worked harder to conceal it.
Go easy, I thought. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Be cool. She’ll come clean. “Lainey, Babe, Sweetie Pie–what’s that in your vest?” I cheerfully asked, setting the scene for a heartfelt confession.
“It’s nuffing,” she replied, pulling away and tucking it deeper in her grip.
“Does it belong to you? Because we’re getting in our car and going home, and if it’s Presley’s toy it needs to stay at Presley’s house. She’d be so sad if she went to play with one of her toys and it was gone.”
Lainey pulled a cheap happy meal toy from her vest–one I’d definitely never seen before, flashed me a testy look and dug herself a deeper hole. “It’s not Presley’s. It’s mine.”
Dammit. She lied. My kid just Winona Ryder’ed a happy meal toy, and now she’s lying about it. And I’m going to have to whip out one of those award-winning parenting speeches that’s going to seer a lesson deep into her conscience as if this single happy meal toy is the deciding factor on whether or not she has a lifetime of orange jumpsuits and prison Spam sandwiches in her future.
“Lainey, I’m pretty sure you didn’t come to the party with that toy. I’d be so sad if you’re telling me it’s your toy when it’s really Presley’s. And I know how sad you’d be if someone took a toy of yours without asking. Like what if someone took your bike and you didn’t have anything to ride on in the driveway anymore? Do you think we could take that toy back to Presley’s house?”
My girl looked down shamefully, so all I could see was her sweet blond hair pulled back into a thin ponytail. Without offering words or looking up, she held the toy out and waited for me to take it, and we walked hand-in-hand back toward the house while I frantically contemplated on what a good mom would say next.
“How ’bout we just leave the toy on the table here?” I asked her, setting the plastic happy meal toy next to a pile of lemonade cups on the table in the middle of the driveway. No one saw her take it, no one saw her return it, but it was done.
On the way home, she talked about how much Presley was going to love the salon kit we got her and how maybe Presley would clip the pink hair extension clips in her little sister’s hair. I smiled and nodded but inwardly analyzed how I’d just handled the stealing situation. Should I have done more? Should I have made her confess to Presley or created a bigger scene so she’d never forget? It was a big deal to me–I never expected my kid would purposefully steal something and think to hide it from me–at least not when she’s only four, and I thought of all the things I could have said–the perfect scripts the parenting books suggest you robotically rattle off in situations like this. Where were cue cards when I needed them, and if my response to big lesson opportunities like this were off, is my kid going to be the naugty one? The hitter, the thief, the target for parents’ pointing fingers with a “Watch out for that one”?
Obviously, I have a tendency to over analyze, especially when it comes to sculpting my girls’ character. It’s so important to me to raise kind and conscientious children, ones who think about others and make efforts to improve the world around them, and so much of their ability to do this comes from skills and lessons we will teach them. Pressure, to say the least.
Sometimes, we will mess up. We’ll flub up responses, reacting too harshly or not harsh enough. We’ll yell when we should have hugged, lose our cool when we should have sighed and smiled, or retreat behind a shower curtain with a glass of wine praying the kids won’t find us when we should have faced our problems.
I don’t always know the perfect thing to say to my kids when they ask me questions or need a good lesson. Sometimes, off the cuff responses for me sound more like off kilter. Like I once told Lainey she had to sit in a carseat because, otherwise her body would “fling in the air and hit a window” if we got in an accident. Great mom, I know. I regret that one. But I believe our kids will know what’s good and will find their own way to adopting good and kind and conscientious as inherent attributes even if we don’t have the perfect lectures to back it. They will know far more by how we model behaviors than by how we verbally advise them. Besides, I’m not really a scripted kind of girl. If the books said say it this way, I’d revel in the challenge of finding a that way that was different but good. As Jill Churchill said, “there’s no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one.”
We talked last night again about what happened–why it was important that we didn’t take something that didn’t belong to us and how it makes people feel when we do things that are unkind. I asked Lainey to look at me when I spoke, because “I need to see your Oreo eyes so I know you understand Mama.” She looked at me and smiled, opening her eyes so big, her face turned into a silly expression. We both laughed and I watched as she fell back into her pillow and wrapped her arm around Nella, squeezing her tightly and nuzzling her blond head gently into her sister’s.
There will be more lessons, more conversations about making good decisions. Today it’s happy meal toys; tomorrow it’s studying for tests, dealing with mean girls, respecting curfews. While I may never instruct my child in a way that merits applause or goes down in history as the perfect cue card way, I do it as thoughtfully as possible, cutting myself some slack that I’m doing the best job I can.
And every day, there are constant reminders that we’re doing just fine.
Congratulations to the Mamalode subscription winner, Comment #472, Sandra: I love your take on balance. I’ve been one of those “waiting for the other shoe to drop” people, living with too much fear of the unknown impending doom. Thinking of it from a different perspective will help me enjoy the good and balance the…less-good.
Sandra, please send your contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you’ll soon be running to your mailbox for a nice treat.
You can still get your subscription HERE. Nella’s cover and “The Secret Reserves” article is in the ENOUGH issue (you can choose your first issue).
We are enjoying the rest of our holiday weekend and looking forward to cheering our girl on at her ballet recital this afternoon. I can’t decide between bestowing her with a bouquet of flowers at her performance or perhaps something she’d like a little better…a new happy meal toy.
The cutest, most versatile kid duds: Tea Collection Painters Overalls
Have a great holiday!