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Genesis of A Criminal

So we went for brunch at our
friends’ house this weekend and were spending a few
wonderful, kid-free moments chatting while Maddie played with her
friends Will and Danny in their bedroom unsupervised. They know and
like each other and had gotten along well enough that we felt
comfortable walking back and assessing the situation periodically,
but in general leaving them to their own devices.

Suddenly I hear the fast patter of little feet scrambling down the
hallway. Peering around the corner, I spy my daughter –and
there’s no other way to describe this – fleeing the
bedroom with an oven mitt in her hand, yelling, “Just a
minute! Just a minute! Just a minute!” Since this was an oven
mitt that had earlier ignited animated conversation –
everyone wanted to use it to bake fake muffins at the same time
– I was immediately suspicious.

Maddie careened around the corner, her
feet scrabbling for purchase on the slick wood floor as she looked
around frantically in what I was earnestly hoping was not
escape-route-searching mode. Spying a toy car they’d been
playing with earlier, she hurtled herself towards the thing. As my
daughter – I kid you not – flung herself into what
everyone in the room instantly recognized had become a getaway car,
repeatedly looking over her shoulder for the clearly imminent
chase, I asked, “Maddie, did you take that oven mitt from
Willsy or Danny?”

Without even looking at me, Maddie said, still fumbling to get
herself in and the door closed and her criminal self on her way,
“Well, see –“ and was abruptly cut off as a blur
of two boys came speeding into view. Not able to come up with a
suitably vague reply and dodge capture at the same time, Maddie
completely ditched conversation with me and renewed her attempts to
hotwire the Little Tykes. With the boys looming over her, she
screeched, her feet locomoting Fred Flinstone-like on the floor:
“I just! I just! I just!”

Of course the adults then stepped in and the situation immediately
diffused; our calmness and objectivity certainly took some air out
of the excitement tires, if you know what I mean. We got it all
sorted out, and the pilfered pot mitt was returned to its rightful
(and righteously indignant) owner.

We all had a good laugh, of course, and the sight of my daughter
throwing herself into that plastic car was one I won’t soon
forget. But as I thought about it later, I realized the incident
marked a turning point in Maddie’s development:

She’s begun lying.

Up until very recently, Madeleine’s never thought to tell me
anything but the truth. In all honesty, I don’t think it
occurred to her there was another option available. No matter the
situation, if I asked her a question, she’d answer
truthfully: “Did you take gum out of my purse?”
“Yes.” “Did you chew it?” “No.”
“Did you try to feed it to the cat?” “Yes.”

Now, though, she’s begun to realize that the truth may not
always serve her so well as a plausible lie. Our discipline
consists largely of choices and consequences, and as she realizes
that her actions have consequences, so has she discovered that the
truth brings down results of its own. If I ‘fess up to Mommy
about going poopy, I’ll have to suffer a diaper change.
Better to pretend nothing happened and sit in the dirty diaper.
“Maddie, did you go poopy?” “No.”
“Are you sure? Your diaper feels full and the air is, shall
we say, scented.” “Hmm. Nope, I didn’t.”

So far Madeleine’s prevarication has been small and harmless;
she’s never lied to me about disobeying. If I’ve spied
her hitting Cora, for example, and come over and ask if she did it,
she’ll always own up. If I hear a book fall during a temper
tantrum and ask if she just threw something, she’ll
acknowledge as how she did.

But with the Oven Mitt Caper I saw those wheels turning for the
first time – the “Hey, if I can come up with a good
story I may get out of this” thought process flashing across
her face. It saddens me, since I know she’s realizing that 1)
Mommy isn’t all-powerful and all-knowing; and 2) there will
be some things that she doesn’t want me to know and, indeed,
will go to great pains to keep from me. I know duplicity and
cowardice are inherent in all of us, but am still sad to see it
creeping into my own beautiful, perfect child; it’s as if
I’m watching a condensed version of the First Fall of Man
happening in Maddie as she grows up. She’s just talked to the
snake and realized there are options out there, and that saddens
me. Which gives me a teeny glimpse into the grief God must have
felt watching Adam and Eve take a bite, but that’s a blog for
another day.

Seconds after the oven mitt got sorted out the three friends were
fast at play again, easy and comfortable in the mercurial changes
of friendship – betrayal to anger to forgiveness at lightning
speed. I know, though, that this is just a sign of things to come
and am fastening my seatbelt for the ride.

And note to self: make sure to hide car keys. Forever.


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