“Why did you buy this?” Cath, my wife, asked. This was not an unfamiliar question. In fact, I can’t recall a single time in our relationship where I’ve come back from a store and not heard those words.
See, I’m sort of an impulse buyer. I can’t help it. If it’s on sale, brightly colored or pours from a twist-top, it goes in the cart. Sure, perhaps I could’ve used better judgment the day I purchased two flats of canned green beans, but from a fiscal point of view it was a steal. At one point, in an effort to rid our house of these cans and give the world back a good chunk of its aluminum supply, I found myself mixing a batch of green bean pancakes for breakfast. A week later I bought 6 loaves of bread for the price of 3. We barely finished one before the others turned into the back end of a science experiment. As a result I’m no longer allowed into a shopping warehouse by myself.
But this time it was different. Lucy, my 3-year-old, and I had just walked down the street to get some bubble bath and moisturizer. There shouldn’t have been anything to question, but sure enough, I turn around a Cathy is holding bar of soap. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill bar of Irish Spring. This is one of those hand-crafted, fancy-paper-wrapped, straw-tied, $12-price-tag, made-in-Jane’s-kitchen, gourmet bars of soap. It didn’t make sense. It was not on sale, it wasn’t brightly colored and it was definitely not pourable…. I would never have bought this! In fact, I’m appalled that she would even question me. Sometimes it’s like she doesn’t even know who I am.
“I didn’t buy that.” I scoffed.
“Well it’s in the stroller.” I shrug my shoulders, Cath shrugs her shoulders and then we both glance over at Lu, who’s noshing on some string cheese. Without missing a beat, she pulls off a long string, puts it in her mouth and says without looking at either of us, “Oh that’s mine. I put it in the stroller. It’s beautiful. It smell nice, like oranges.” I wasn’t sure what disturbed me more: the fact that she thought this $12 bar of Rosemary scented soap smelled like oranges, or that my 3-year-old is clearly on her way to a life of crime.
“Lu? Did you accidentally put this in the stroller and forget to tell Daddy?” I was giving her an out. If she’s smart she’ll bat her eyes shyly at me, say yes and plead cuteness, if not…..
“Nah, I just took it.” I gasp, Cath gasps, Lu chews her cheese.
“On accident? You took it on accident right? If you took it on accident, it’s okay you didn’t know better, we can fix this, but it was an accident wasn’t it?”
“Nooooo, I took it on purpose. It wasn’t an accident, I just wanted it. So I took it. I took it so I could clean my body with beautiful orange soap.”
“Lu, what you did was steal, and that’s a very bad thing to do. I think we need go back to the store so you can apologize and give them back their soap.”
We head back to the scene of the crime. As soon as we walk inside, Lu grabs the soap from the bottom of the stroller, walks over to a shelf and puts it in the very spot she took it from. Before I knew what had happened – and before anyone had seen her – she was back in the stroller and ready to go.
“Okay I put it back, now let’s go. Let’s go, let’s go!” She was shouting out orders like I was Bonnie and she was Clyde.
This was supposed to teach her a lesson! That wasn’t how this was supposed to go down. She was supposed return the bar of soap and be so embarrassed by her actions that she’ll never shoplift again. In a hazy panic, I turn the stroller around and start to leave. I tell myself that it’s the right thing to do. After all in order for the whole moral lesson thing to play out she would have to re-shoplift the soap, give it to the manager, explain that this particular bar of soap was in here before, then it was in my house, but I didn’t pay for it so I brought it back, returned it to the shelf… I decide we’ll just have a talk on the way home, but before we can leave, a lady materializes from behind a can of shaving cream.
“Hello, can I help you find anything?”
“Nope, just looking.” Why am I sweating? I can feel my pulse in my throat. I was telling myself to be cool and then Lucy says, “No thank you, we were stealing soap and we’re done and we are going home.” I mask my nervousness with girlish laughter and furious bout of gum smacking. Has she lost her mind? For God’s sake, I was supposed to be the voice of reason, and now I’m an accomplice! After a few moments of panic I finally crack and rat out Lucy. Shaving cream lady seems more confused than anything.
I explain our situation, we all have an uneasy laugh and Lucy apologizes to the store manager. We spend a few more minutes in the store smelling things (orange things) before heading home. Along the way we stop to pick up a few leaves, scare a few squirrels and talk about the difference between wrong and right. After all was said and done, I stop the stroller and ask Lucy to tell me why what she did was wrong.
“It was wrong because I stole it on purpose.”
“Very good,” I reply. This is a learning moment, and I’m pleased. I thought she had a clear understanding of the situation and this was something we would never have to deal with again and then she turned around. She smiled, batted her eyes shyly at me and said, “Don’t worry, Daddy, I know stealing on purpose is wrong. That’s why the next time I steal something, I’ll remember to make sure I do it on accident.”