Saturday, September 19, 2015

Getting in Trouble: A Mom's Eye View

Did Ruby really steal the apple at the start of The Beat on Ruby’s Street—or just want to? And what about the rest of us, when it comes to making choices we regret?

When my son was little, he asked me if I’d ever done something “really wrong” and gotten into trouble. It felt like a no-win situation, especially because he was in trouble when he asked the question.

He had pulled the fire alarm lever at his day camp building and I had been called. Consequences had been devised (written and spoken apology, no TV, education about fire alarms, and being grounded for the entire week without friends or play dates).

But then came this question, and I thought it needed an honest answer.

“Of course,” I said. And then was very tempted to say, “But I don’t remember.”

These are the moments when you, as a parent, wonder: What do I say now – and how do I know that whatever I say won’t turn this kid into a lifelong criminal?

Deep breath, tell him we’ll talk when we get home, and we do. I decide to tell my son about times I’d mouthed off to teachers (quite a bit, actually) but that doesn’t quite seem “naughty’ enough. Then, I let him know about the time I intentionally touched an antique I wasn’t supposed to in a store and broke it. There were other things too, but I thought that was plenty for both of us for a while.

I thought breaking the antique was a little like reaching out for the fire alarm. I knew it was wrong, but something in me wanted to rebel against all the rules the world set and knock them down, like so many pins in a bowling alley. 

I guess all of us have times when we want to find out what happens if we do something wrong. It’s a little like biting the world, only sooner or later, if we do that, we learn pretty quickly that the world is going to bite us back.

But I’m an adult and know it can take years to figure to that out. Still, I try to convey it as best I can and hope he gets the message.

In the meantime, there will be other stuff he does, and consequences. And stories of how his mom navigated her childhood. The most important story, I guess, is that every day we have is a chance to do better.

But I know this can be murky stuff! So for a little more clarity, I dug around and found a few more parents' takes on this issue too:

Illustration: Jackson Muenster