by Lois Ann Ell
About a year ago our house was robbed. Here’s what was taken: a plastic jar full of loose change, known in our family as the Disneyland Fund. The amount would have probably funded a half a day’s ticket and a pair of Mickey ears. But the incident wasn’t really about the money, rather the lessons learned after.
At first I was in denial. I thought, maybe I moved the jar? Someone brought it to Coinstar for us? Then I became angry, that someone came into our house and took this heavy barrel of coins; lucky pennies, change from pockets, the washing machine, under beds, a long history of saving little miniature president faces of copper and nickel and alloy.
Then I found out that the robbers were kids, and not just any kids but sweet children who I have snapped Legos together with and exchanged knock-knock jokes with and made mac and cheese for and hugged tightly many times. At this point the stages blurred into this icky territory where I didn’t know what to do or how to feel. I didn’t see the kids for a while after that; they stayed away, them knowing I knew.
I told a friend about the situation and the different feelings I was going through regarding the incident. “It sounds like you’re talking about the stages of grief,” she said. “What are you grieving?”
I thought about it. I missed them. I was grieving the way it used to be.
Talking to my mom one day, still mulling over the situation, I brought up the incident again, even though it had been weeks. She said casually, “Remember when you stole that lunch money in 2nd grade?”
I silently digested the words she had just uttered. Then the memory came swimming back upstream in vivid detail: Sitting in Mrs. Anderson’s morning circle as the lunch money is being collected in an envelope for the day and set aside while she reads a book to us in her gentle, steady voice, and me, taking the envelope.
About a week later, I was caught. Mrs. Anderson called my mother at home and told her I had been given many opportunities to confess, but now she needed the money returned, which I did.
Here’s the thing I can’t recall: why I did it. Steal, that is. My mother threw out a theory that maybe I wanted a real school lunch on a plastic tray, since she rolled up uneaten morning pancakes with cream cheese and green olives for mine. Or she’d make peanut butter and jelly but would use the green, blobby mint jelly reserved for roasted lamb instead of strawberry or grape, and it would often be mistaken by my peers for snot.
My mother and a few other friends reminded me that it’s very common for children to try stealing once or twice, the key phrase being ‘once or twice,’ and hopefully not for it to become a part-time job.
What I remember most about my incident in 2nd grade is that Mrs. Anderson never treated me any different after my crime. She still hugged me just as much.
Here’s how I handled the kids stealing from me: finally, I forgave them. I told them what they did was wrong, but it does not make them bad kids. And I hugged them.
A friend of mine said I was too easy, and that I should have been stricter. I told her she never had Mrs. Anderson for a teacher.