Here it is. The culprit of this afternoon's drama. The dreaded domino.
Earlier today, my perfect, innocent, sweet, wonderful, 4-year-old Jane stole a blue domino from her classroom at school. She proudly waved it in front of me when she got off the bus. "Look what I have!" she boasted, clearly looking forward to showing off her new treasure.
"Oh, a domino! Cool!" I said. Then a flash of awareness. Wait, I thought. We don't have blue dominoes.
"Where did you get that, Jane?" I asked.
"I found it during naptime at school," she said, nonchalant.
"Does it belong in your classroom? Are there dominoes at school?"
"Yes. There's a set of dominoes we play with sometimes," she admitted.
"So, did you sneak it into your backpack after you found it?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed, smiling, clearly proud of this perfect sneaky feat.
Well, at least the girl's honest, I tell myself. Then a thousand thoughts run through my mind.
My kid just stole a toy from her school. How do I handle this? Freak out? Make a big deal out of it? Shame her so she never does it again?
Or do I chalk it up to "kids will be kids"? Maybe she just thought she found it. Finders Keepers, right? But she snuck it into her backpack. That meant she didn't want to get caught! Ugh, if I don't handle this just right, she'll think it's okay to steal.
Why does she seem to have no remorse? Is she a tiny sociopath? Oh my God, I'm a failure as a mother. Total failure.
But then I realized that as a child, I'd been tempted to do the very same thing. A few deep breaths later, I spoke. Instead of focusing in on her transgression, I decided to fess up to my own crimes.
"Jane, when I was little, we had these tiny colorful bears that we used to count during math time at school. I liked playing with the bears much more than I liked counting them. So one day, I took some and put them in my pocket. I stole them. Your grandmother finally found me playing with them, and she made me take them back to my teacher and apologize. I was really sad because I loved those bears, but it was the right thing to do. Tomorrow, you're going to have to take that domino back to your teacher and apologize for stealing it."
Fear filled her little face. "But I don't want to take my domino back. It's mine!" she cried, big tears of realization falling.
"But is it really yours?" I asked, folding her into me, my heart breaking because it'd be so much easier to just let her keep the damn domino. It would be so easy to laugh at how sneaky she'd been, how funny that was. Goodness, I could go to the store and buy her a roomful of dominoes, then sit on the floor playing with them all night and laughing at the whole situation.
But, stealing isn't funny. And lessons in morality are hard, both for the one learning the lessons and for the one having to teach them. I actually hate having to teach Jane hard lessons; I hate to be the one to tell her that, unfortunately, sometimes her choices are wrong. It's much easier to just praise her for everything. But doing the hard thing, like teaching morals, setting expectations, giving consequences for behavior -- that's what I signed up for when I decided to give this whole parenting thing a try.
Somehow, when you're rocking your baby to sleep at night, you don't realize that a day will come when that sweet-scented bundle of bones will gain a conscience. That baby will suddenly start testing her limits. She will break rules. She will face temptations, like lone blue dominoes lost under cabinets near the nap mats. And sometimes, she will triumph over temptation. And sometimes, she will fail. And when she fails, there is no one else standing in line to teach her that sometimes, we all fail. And that failures aren't even failures -- they are actually opportunities for forgiveness and grace.
After a few attempts at negotiation, we've agreed to take the domino back tomorrow. She begged to just sneak it back in with the others when she gets to school, but I told her no. I told her that I will walk with her. I will be with her when she owns up to her mistake. I will be with her when she learns the hard lesson. And, together, we'll see how the dominoes fall.