For awhile now, Saebra has been cultivating the habit of sneaking. It started small, as all things usually do, but this last week it took a leap big enough for Sara and I to throw the brakes on this train and try and figure out how to fix it. It’s pretty much always been about food. Snacks. Candy. Especially candy. It started after Halloween this year when each girl came home with a mammoth bag of tooth wrecking goodies. We limited them to one piece a day, but still left both bags open and on the counter in the kitchen for easy access. Not long after that we began to find far more candy wrappers tucked into corners of her bedroom than could be explained by one piece a day. We asked her if she’d been taking candy without asking, and she admitted she had, and we told he not to do it anymore and then placed the remainders in a closed container on top of the fridge. Reprimand, warning, and removal of easy opportunity. Done.
Some time later we got up earlier than usual on a Saturday morning and caught her standing on the counter frantically trying to get down and appear inconspicuous after having raided the candy box. We were just a little bit, um, pissed. I thought we’d been clear about taking candy. In my mind “Do not take any candy” was no different than “Do not touch the table saw” and I was, again, pissed that we’d been disobeyed. This event resulted in a grounding for the day and the disposal of all the rest of her candy. Done. Again.
After this Sara found some time to have a talk with Sabe about sneaking, and why it’s wrong. She explained that when you sneak, you’re lying not with words, but with your whole body. If you want something, you should ask, especially if it’s not yours. So, fine. Lesson taught.
Then the day came when a note came home from her teacher. She took gum out of the bag of another girl in her class and got caught when she couldn’t wait to eat it and took it out in bus line. She was apparently more upset about getting caught than about having done something wrong. I won’t go into great details. The important thing is that this event pulled back the curtain on all of my worst fears about her social development and place in the in the public school pecking order for the next 12 years. The most ostracized kid in my graduating class had been that way since before I could even remember. I was left freaking out that my youngest was setting herself up for a miserable educational experience because we hadn’t properly instilled her with the most basic of values. Even worse… the girl whose gum she took is her one real friend in her kindergarten class. Oh Christ.
So we handed down the biggest and longest punishment she’s seen so far, but only after a half an hour long talk about why she was being punished and why she needed to understand that what she did was wrong. No computer time. No DVD’s. No overnights with her Nana. Every day after school would be spent in her room, on her bed. Bedtime would be an hour earlier. For two weeks. Plus, she had to write a letter to her friend and apologize and for each of those 14 days she would have to explain to one of her parents why she was being punished. It was the worst thing we’ve had to do to her so far, but we thought it was effective because she did not like it. Especially when the next day came and the punishment hadn’t gone away.
So we did this for a week, and for the first few days it was all screaming and crying but by Friday she had accepted it and was just trying to get through it. And on Saturday morning when the kids came in to wake us up, as they went to leave the bedroom Aurelia asks Saebra, “Why does your breath smell fruity?”.
She had taken gum out of her mother’s purse.
We hit the roof. What the hell?!? What do we have to do to get through? What was it going to take? What? She lost her entire Saturday for that and had to spend it on her bed. No toys. No books. No talking. Sara and I spent the day wondering if there was even anything left for us to do.
That night, bedtime was a blur and both kids has been to all corners of the house in the process of getting ready. When I finally went in to say goodnight to Saebra, just as I came around the side of the bunk bed, she was burying her hands under her covers and clamping her mouth closed as she saw me coming. There’s stuff I miss, but I saw that caught-in-the-act look before she finished putting it on. I got down next to the bed and put my face right up to hers.
“Do you have something in your mouth”, I asked. “After you were told to get right in bed and do nothing else? I certainly hope that you didn’t sneak something in here just now and try eating it, not after all we’ve been through this week. Not after what just happened this morning. I’m going to ask you now, and you tell me the truth… what did you just put in your mouth?”
Wide eyes. Pause. “Boogers.”