We returned home from our family gathering late last night. I was readying the kids for bed, helping them into pajamas, fetching that last glass of water, turning down the sheets for them to crawl between. That’s when I noticed Anders had something clutched tightly in his fist.
“What’s that?” I asked. He was reluctant to show me, but as most mothers do I knew the look of guilt on my child’s face and I pressed him.
He opened his hand to reveal a small action figure. “Zane said I could have this.”
Zane is my nephew. He is six years old, equally enamored of super heroes, and I had my doubts that he had willingly relinquished one of his fleet.
“Anders, are you telling the truth?” His face flushed, his eyes welled up, and he began to sob.
“I don’t have one of these, mom. I just wanted to play with it at our house. I was going to bring it back.” The tears were flowing freely then.
It was one of those impossibly difficult moments in parenthood where you waffle between gathering your child into your arms to shield them from their own mistake and standing firm so as to fully convey the depth of your disappointment. Anders is only four. He will undoubtedly do worse things in life than take an action figure from his cousin without asking, but isn’t it how I respond to these early transgressions that will shape the magnitude of those future wrongdoings?
We had a long talk then. I didn’t spare him the fact that he let me down, but I didn’t shame him either. Lying and stealing are not acceptable, but he is still a child — a child who is daily learning how to handle temptations, how to decipher right from wrong.
We agreed that he would return the toy and apologize. It was an action he decided upon with a little guidance from myself. Is it too cliche to say that it feels like only yesterday that I was in his position — the student of life lessons instead of the teacher?
I remember my mother saying on many occasions how it hurt her more than it did me to have to dole out punishment. It was a statement that was sure to earn her a dramatic sigh and an eye roll. Now I know exactly what she meant and it makes me want to hug her harder and bring her fresh cut flowers and beg her to tell me how she survived it.
There is less than a year now until Anders begins kindergarten and I’m sure these missteps will present themselves more frequently as he begins to experience peer pressure and spends more and more time outside my watchful eye. His father and I will no longer be the only people whispering in his ear. I can only hope that we will continue to be successful in our efforts to instill in him the values that will ensure he grows into an honest, tolerant, and compassionate person.
I don’t relish this part of motherhood, but I know it is one of the most vital aspects of parenting.