Monday, January 17, 2011

Shoplifting . . . and Redemption

I remember my first, and only, shoplifting incident like it was yesterday, but it was really 32 years ago.

I was five or six years old and I took a little round bouncing ball from Woolworth's. It wasn't even in a package, in fact, I think it had come from a package of jacks that some other child had opened.

I put it in my pocket, went to a roller skating party, and all the while that ball burned a hole in my pocket. I got home, hid on the floor on the other side of the bed, and that's where my dad found me when he got home. I can't remember if I told my mom or if she found the ball, but I remember us having a conversation about it and my defense was that it wasn't in a package but that it was just lying on the shelf. Her response, "If I found a tv lying in with the pillows, would that make it okay for me to take it ?" I remember being un-nerved that she wasn't yelling at me.

After my dad came home, my mom made me tell him what I did. This was a frequent M.O. for my mom when we did something wrong - no way was she going to run interference for us. I remember my dad talking on the phone to Woolworth's and he made an appointment for us to see the store manager the next morning.

That next morning, my dad didn't go to work before we woke up as was his usual practice - rather he stayed home and took me to Woolworth's. I felt the enormity of this situation. I still feel it now.

I had to tell the store manager what I had done, told him I was sorry, and handed him back the ball. I remember my dad and he smiling at each other and thought how strange it was that they were smiling at this horrible situation. I felt ashamed and embarassed, and that was the right way to feel. A little bit of shame is a good thing.

A year or two later, in my CCD class (that's what we called Catholic Sunday school back in the day) our teacher was explaining the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I remember clearly that she said "If there is something you have done wrong, something that is bothering you, you can tell God about it through Father and God will forgive you and you will feel better." I knew instantly that I would confess my theft, for sometimes I could still feel that little ball burning a hole in my pocket.

On the day of First Reconciliation, there were two priests hearing the children's confessions - one was friendly with our family and I didn't know the other one quite as well. I was the second child to be called and the second I went into the sacristy and saw the priest I didn't know as well (the sacristy was doubling as the confessional), I burst into tears. Through sobs I got the story out, he forgave me, and for my penance I was to say 2 Our Fathers and 1 Hail Mary. I remember thinking that was a pretty light sentence for such a horrible crime. He assured me that God forgave me and that I didn't need to feel badly about it anymore, so long as I didn't do it again. He also asked me to please stop crying because it would scare the other children !

The fact that I remember these incidents in such detail indicates to me that it was a profound experience and that my parents and the priest handled it the right way.

Now that Beezus is approaching 5 1/2, she is lying with some regularity about whether or not she has washed her hands, gone to the bathroom and/or brushed her teeth. It is incredibly irritating to me and it also worries me - the ease with which she lies. I've tried to stop asking her and instead I smell her hands or her breath so that I can determine if she's done the requested duty, rather than asking her and essentially giving her the opportunity to lie. I can't seem to get her to stop, nor can I impress upon her the enormity of the situation. I haven't yet pulled out the "Jesus will put a black mark next to your name every time you lie" but I'm starting to consider it.

I can't help but wonder if shoplifting something is the next age appropriate (but negative) milestone on her list. I really hope that I handle it as well as my parents did or else I may doom her to a life of thievery !


dc604 said...

omg - not the black mark book! you would always refer to that as we were growing up and in my little head i pictured a huge (think the real dictionary huge) black leather bound book with my name in gold letters on the front, full of blank pages. every time i did something wrong another page was flipped and one singular black check mark was recorded on the page. i still carry that image with me!

maybe that's part of what made religion so scary for me - the expectation that "we know you're gonna do something wrong and we're ready for you when you do"

how about just teaching the "have's and can't have's"? if you have one dollar to pay for that then you can have it. if you do not have one dollar, then you cannot have it.

JessicaAPISS said...

What a great story, so relatable. I stole my item from a friend's house - a book when I was four. I had to confess it to her parents and they were very judgy. Thinking about it now gives me the guilty creeps!!

mom said...

I loved your story and yes your parents did a wonderful job. My older daughter is doing the same, though I tell her I will smell and she goes running. I tell her that there is nothing worse than not trusting someone, and that she is going to become a person I can no longer trust. It has worked but To this behavior in my case, since I am not catholic, I have to read her the story about 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf'. That was the story my parents read when I was behaving this way.

Laurie said...

I remember my story like it was yesterday too. A piece of Brachs candy in an open bin. My mom saw me opening it in the parking lot of the grocery store, walked me back in side, had me return it and apologize to the employee there. Huge impact on me!

I read recently that kids at this age lie about 7-8 times a day and it's normal. It said that the lesson is not brushing it off. So, if I know that Z has said somethign untrue, I tell her that it's not true, correct it and keep going. I also don't ask her questions I already know the answers too. We like George Washington and the Cherry Tree as a good story about the value of not lying.

xlpharmacy said...

I remember I had a similar situation when I was a child, actually all children around the world use to have those incidents, I remember that my mother used to punish me because I was a naughty child.

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