My son once paid my daughter a dollar to go away and leave him alone.
I found the little girl in the workshop (sewing machines, not wood and tools) turned temporary kids’ room by herself on her bed, clutching her dollar.
The boy and his friends were outside, carefree and clearly up to something. They eyed me as I walked past, looked down and picked at their fingernails when I said, “Where’s your sister?”
I’d been in the house, see, the grown-up house, doing some grown-up chore like making dinner or washing dishes or starting the dryer a second time so those towels might actually dry.
I asked the little girl: “What are you doing in here all by yourself?”
She looked up at me with those eyes big as moons and smiled. “I don’t know, Mom!”
She is 3. Going on 9.
I scooped her up. I stroked her hair. I asked her where she got that dollar.
She told me.
And I freaked.
And the thing is maybe I shouldn’t have been so upset at the older brother. Because the little girl? She didn’t really seem sad. No. She simply seemed like a little kid in a room filled with toys, television and food, unsupervised. I wonder if the possibilities felt endless.
To me, however, this wasn’t cool. This brother’s bribe was blatant snobbery, selfishness. It was mean.
I don’t like mean.
So. We went outside. The older kids were still gathered by the tree house. Their voices hushed. Their gazes shifty.
Calmly, I asked my son, who is 7, where his sister got that dollar.
He pretended to be confused. (And I thought the mantra I’d been repeating since he learned to talk – “Never lie to your mother. She will always find out” – had gotten through. Silly me). He squinted his eyes, he furrowed his brow, he shrugged his shoulders.
And that was when my eyes flew out of my head, bouncing over the lawn to the street.
The boy old enough to know better went to timeout. He said he and his friends had just wanted time alone.
I reminded him what to do when he would prefer his sister not tag along. (It’s simple: Tell your mother or stepfather you’d like time alone AND THEY’LL HELP YOU! We’re awesome like that). Then I did one of these: “You will stay in time out. Until I figure out what your consequence should be!”
That’s the worst, right? Mom or Dad thinking about a punishment. Oh, man.
I ultimately decided to take the piggy bank away from Mr. Money Bags (he has a wealthy, generous great-grandmother) and keep it in my possession.
How long?! the boy wanted to know.
For as long as I feel I need to, I said. (Yes, I did that, too! Pulling out all the stops.)
The boy wasn’t happy but knew he hadn’t made a good choice. He is amazingly wise and clever and intuitive and has always been great at understanding faults, mistakes, what’s gone wrong.
He accepted his consequence and I gave him a hug and told him I loved him and all that business parents do because we mean it (and because no matter what our babies think, punishing them is no fun for us either!).
And we all quietly got up to return to our lives.
That’s when my daughter spoke.
“Mom?” she said. “Can I keep the dollar?”