Sometimes being a parent really sucks. Like when one of your kids is naughty – really naughty – and you have to figure out what to do about it. My parents were good at this; they always seemed to come up with a consequence that fit the crime and hit us “where it hurt” without going overboard. After 20 years of parenting I still don’t feel like I know what to do when one of the kids misbehaves, like Z-Man did last Friday.
To celebrate Easter I had bought buckets of sidewalk chalk and chocolate bunny suckers for the daycare kids. I don’t know where my brain was when I was shopping; I didn’t get suckers for Z-Man and Little Guy, only buckets of chalk. Little Guy didn’t know the difference, but of course Z-Man noticed right away. “Why I don’t have a bunny?” he asked. I explained that Mommy didn’t buy suckers for he and Little Guy, but that the Easter Bunny would bring them some or we’d go to the store tomorrow to get some for them. Since Z-Man hadn’t slept during naptime he was in rare form and kept asking for a sucker. “Please, please please can I have a sucker?” “But I want a chocolate bunny” “Let me have one now!” Teacher and I took turns telling him “No, you can’t have one, these are for your friends, we’ll get you one tomorrow.”
Sometime after supper I realized I hadn’t seen Z-Man for a while. I thought maybe he had fallen asleep on the floor someplace so I started looking for him and calling his name. As I walked toward the playroom I saw him peeking out from behind a shelf in the quiet corner. His eyes were full of mischief and his mouth was full of… something. “What’s in your mouth?” I asked, thinking that he was chewing paper or rubber bands again. His eyes sparkled with mischief as he mumbled “Shocat munny” around a mouthful of half melted chocolate.
It took me a moment to decipher what he had said, but as my mind put two and two together his conscience kicked into gear and his face started to pale. “WHAT are you eating?!” I asked again. “Chocolate bunny” he repeated, his big brown eyes growing bigger. For an instant I was frozen in shock. I could not believe that my sweet baby boy had so blatantly disobeyed us. Z-Man looked up at me, his eyes grew unbelievably bigger and the corners of his mouth turned down. His lip started to tremble as he watched me expectantly, waiting for punishment.
My brain was moving slowly, trying to catch up. He’s waiting to see what you’re going to do, you have to do something! My mind was empty. I shot Teacher a look: I don’t know what to do! Teacher’s eyes replied I don’t know what to do either! but he turned to Z-Man, “Sit in this chair. Now.” Z-man shuffled over and climbed into a chair near Teacher, his eyes filling his face and his little mouth trembling. Meanwhile my brain was spinning, trying to find an appropriate consequence.
No dessert tonight? No, he’s already had a chocolate bunny. Besides we’re having strawberries which he loves and the vitamin C will be good for his cold.
Give something from his basket to his friend? No, Sunday is too far away for that to mean anything, we need something sooner.
Buy another one? With his money? That just might work, let’s try that one…
Z-Man’s eyes were misty and he kept looking at Teacher, me, and his lap as he sat waiting for his sentence. Teacher started out, “That was VERY naughty to take a sucker after we told you not to…” I chimed in “I’m very sad that you took your friend’s sucker, that’s not being a nice friend…” Teacher continued “You need to apologize to Mommy and me for not listening to us…” then I dropped the bomb; “And tomorrow we’re going to the store and you’re going to buy a new chocolate bunny with YOUR money.” As Z-Man listened to us his eyes grew even bigger – bigger than I’d ever seen them in his whole life. I could tell by looking at him that he knew how naughty he had been and that he was sorry. “I’m sorry, Dada. I’m sorry, Mama.” he whispered, big tears rolling down his little cheeks. His sweet sad face imprinted itself in my memory forever and my heart melted, but I knew I had to stay strong and couldn’t give in to my need to comfort him.
Shortly after we let him go play I couldn’t help myself and had to gather him onto my lap and cuddle him close. “I don’t want to use my money mama.” he said. “Then you shouldn’t have eaten the chocolate bunny!” I replied. A moment later he started to tear up again, “I don’t want to use ALL my money!” he whispered, burying his face in my shoulder. “It won’t take all of your money, just some.” I told him, stroking his head and back. I felt bad that he was upset, but felt that we’d found a suitable consequence.
The next day we went to Walgreens to replace the chocolate bunny. As I picked one out for Little Guy I wavered and grabbed one for Z-Man too, just because I love him so very much. But I knew it wasn’t the best thing to do for him so I put it back. He carried the suckers to the counter and handed the money over to the cashier without complaint. When we got home he taped a new sucker to his friend’s chalk bucket and gave Little Guy his sucker with a huge smile.
I have a feeling that Teacher and I were more traumatized by the whole experience than Z-Man was, but hopefully he’s learned from it and next time will think before acting. Hopefully…