Regular readers of this blog may remember this post from last June, wherein I described an incident where I ordered an ice mocha from Starbucks but was not charged for it. I had walked out of the store without paying, but then stopped and walked back in and paid for it. It was a moment where my impulses came into conflict with my values, and my values won.
A couple of weeks ago I had brought my kids with me to Trio Hardware, a family owned hardware store here in Plainview. I can't recall what it was I wanted to buy, but when I was standing in line to pay for what I wanted to buy, my kids had each grabbed a small toy from some rack near the register. My daughter (age 5) had some octopus looking thing and my son (age 7) had a little frog that when you squeezed it, its tongue would stick out. My kids pleaded with me to buy the toys for them, but I told them no. I don't normally buy them toys on impulse like that, because I don't want them to think that every time I take them to a store with me that they are entitled to get a toy. (Yeah, I know, I'm a horrible parent!)
I told my kids to put the toys back where they found them and then it was my turn to pay for the items I wanted to buy. Later that night, my kids and I were down in the family room in the basement watching a movie. For some reason, I had opened a storage ottoman I recently purchased that was near the stairs. And when I looked inside, lo and behold, there was the toy that my daughter wanted me to buy for her. When I wasn't looking, she must have put the toy into her jacket pocket while I was making my purchase at the hardware store. I confronted my daughter about it and told her that she would have to go back to the hardware store with me the next morning to return it.
So, the next day, I dropped my son off at a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese in Hicksville and then drove my daughter to the hardware store. As I was talking with my daughter about why it was wrong to steal, she said to me that my son had taken a toy as well. We got to the hardware store and told my daughter to hand the toy over to the teenage girl manning the register. I explained to the girl what had happened, but she seemed rather nonplussed by it all.
An hour and a half later, I returned to Chuck E Cheese to pick up my son. After we had gotten in the car and exchanged small talk about the party, I hit him with it. "By the way, your sister tells me that you also stole a toy from the hardware store yesterday. Is this true." He admitted it. "Great!" I moaned, "now I have to go back to the hardware store again!" So, we stopped at my house first and I told my son to go find the toy he had stolen, and then we headed back to Trio Hardware.
When we got there, the same teenage girl was behind the counter, and I tried to imagine how ridiculous it would look to her to see me back there with another one of my kids to return a stolen toy. As I stood waiting for her to finish with the customer on line ahead of me, I noticed a woman standing near me who looked to be in her fifties. I assumed she was another customer. She looked at me and asked me if I needed help with anything. I told her no, and explained that I was returning a toy that my son had stolen the day before and that I wanted to make him return it to teach him a lesson. She then identified herself as Francesca Carlow, the co-owner of the store. She thanked me for bringing the toy back (not that it really cost much, maybe 2 or 3 bucks, but it was the principle of the thing). I explained to Mrs. Carlow what had happened, and she thanked me again for doing the right thing and shook my hand. I had my son apologize to her and hand over the toy and she thanked him and spoke to him in a very friendly manner.
I saw it as one of those "teachable moments," where my children could learn a valuable lesson by realizing that there were consequences to their actions. I explained to both my children that when grownups steal things, they can be arrested and go to jail. Hopefully, the lesson will stick with them.
So much for atheists not having morals, eh?