Saturday, October 17, 2009

The annual trip to Ann Arbor — parenting lessons

Buttercup hurt me badly tonight. It wasn't direct or malicious, and I'm not sure she even realized how bad it was. The thing is she stole something — or rather four small charms — from a store. Then she lied about it.

Here's how it happened. My father, his daughter, Buttercup, and I were at the Ann Arbor farmers' market, and dad took the girls in to look at a funky little kids clothing store inside the building. Both girls were clamoring for charms bracelets, and my dad and I got on the same page for once. There were going to be no new trinkets for the girls.

Fast-forward a few hours. We'd been at the game, and the girls had been intermittent. There were good times and irritating moments. There was tiredness — a football game on a cold day can be loooooong. On balance, though, we were doing well.

Until we reached the Jolly Pumpkin Pub — a new brewpub that I needed to check out.

At some point in the meal, I playfully pulled Buttercup to me. There was an odd crunch in her pocket. I had an instant suspicion about it. I asked what was in her pocket. She said it was one thing, and I gave her an odd look. Then she said it was "bark." On questioning, she kept trying to explain why bark that she'd had no access to at any point in the day would be in her back pocket. After a few minutes of this, I escalated to threats.

First, she'd lose her allowance for the week. She was willing to do that. Second, she'd lose her allowance for the rest of the year. She was willing to do that. When I threatened to take away the Annie dress I'd just bought for her to wear for Halloween, then she melted down. Still, she wouldn't fess up to what was actually in her pocket. Finally, I just reached over and got the four charms out of her pocket.

She had stolen and lied about it. It was a willful act. And it felt like a gut punch to me. In seven years of parenting, I'd never felt so hurt or so challenged.

I told her that her mom and I would have to talk about it. She cried louder. I told her that she would have to return the charms to the store and apologize. There was more crying. I told her that she would be punished. Greatly. And to each of them, she whimpered that she would do anything — anything — not to have her mom hear about it, not to have to apologize to the store. She was not going to be off the hook, however.

At this point, I'm still at a loss for how to deal with it fully. The store was closed, meaning Grandpa will have to handle returning the charms, along with a letter from Buttercup. The kid knows that she did wrong, and that her mom will soon know that she did wrong. She knows that she will be punished. I just hope it all sticks in ways that make sense.