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Accepting Unfair Consequences

A couple weekends ago, we had a beautiful
Saturday morning and went on a family walk through the
neighborhood. A few streets over we walked into a garage sale and
began browsing lazily through the items. One table was devoted to
the owner’s rather large, um, collectibles collection –
several dozen Hallmark Christmas ornaments, as well as three or
four Barbies in their boxes. Brian had a firm grip on Cora, so I
began sorting through a pile of children’s clothing.

Sixty seconds later, a fellow shopper came over to me.
“Ma’am?” she said apologetically. “Your
daughter just broke that ornament over there.” I looked up,
and Maddie was running to me, tears already streaming down her
face, as the garage sale owner stood holding a Barbie ornament.

Maddie leapt into my arms and cried
silent, shaking sobs, trembling in fear and shame, her arms and
legs twined tightly around me. I hugged her fiercely and said,
“It’s ok, honey, it’s alright. Accidents happen,
sweetheart. We’ll deal with this. It’s ok.
Mommy’s not mad.” The moment seemed to happen in
slow-motion, and I knew in my heart that this moment would have an
indelible impression on Maddie’s character, and that how I
chose to handle this – both with her and the owner –
would lay some sort of foundational groundwork in her heart, for
better or for worse. I had this sense of “act wisely, your
child is listening” reverberating through my head, and I
stood still a moment, praying for wisdom and clarity.

I walked over to the owner where she sat near her cash-box and
said, “Obviously we’ll pay for the ornament. How much
is it?” I picked up the thing – a Barbie in a green
dress, a bit scuffed and beaten but still pretty to a preschooler
– and smiled what I hoped was a “I’m taking
responsibility for this” smile.

“Well,” the owner hedged, “This ornament’s
out of the box, and it’s a bit scuffed, but it’s still
quite a collectible, so – ten dollars?”

I stared at the woman. Everything else on her lawn had prices like
“ten cents” or “twelve for a dollar”, and
here she was asking me for ten bucks for an ornament. At a garage
sale. I tried polite reasoning.

“Even out of the box it’s worth ten dollars? I
don’t know much about, um, Barbie collecting, but I’d
guess that’s what you paid for it fourteen years ago when you
bought it. I absolutely know we need to pay for this, but it seems
a bit high.”

“Well,” she said, getting a bit (rightfully) defensive,
“As I said, it IS highly collectible, and I can get more than
that on eBay! She’s lucky she didn’t break one of the
dolls over there – that one’s priced at one hundred and
fifty dollars.”

I counted to ten before saying something I’d regret, and then
said, “Might I respectfully suggest that, with such a
well-loved and obviously expensive and fragile collection, eBay
might be a more appropriate venue for your sale than an
open-to-the-elements garage sale?”

“Well,” she said again prissily, “I suppose that
this is MY garage sale and I can sell anything I want.”

I forced myself to not go down this side path, waited until I was
composed, and – conscious of my daughter’s owl eyes
peeking out from behind her daddy’s back – said humbly,
“You’re right, of course, and I apologize. I’m
simply frustrated at having to buy something I didn’t want,
which of course is not your fault at all. I have no idea the value
of this, and will trust that you are treating me fairly and with

And with that, I gave her the ten bucks, and walked away.

There was more, of course: I still had to speak with Maddie about
her actions. I walked up to where Brian was carrying her away.
“Honey, I know you didn’t do this on purpose, and I
know you are very careful when you touch things, so don’t
worry – I’m not mad. But there are consequences to our
actions, and since we broke it we had to buy it. And since
you’re the one who broke it, I need you to help me pay for
it, ok? So I’m going to ask you to do a few extra chores in
the next few days, and when you’ve finished them you’ll
have paid for this, ok? This is totally doable, and no one is mad
at you, I promise. We simply have to follow through on our
responsibilities, and I know you’ll do these chores and take
care of it.”

Maddie nodded yes quickly, relieved to hear she was absolved, but I
think also relieved that she could take some sort of action to
“pay” for it – she clearly felt awful and knew it
wasn’t my doing at all, but I still had to pay for it. And by
giving her chores to do, I put the control back in her hands and
she felt as if she were fixing her own problem. I saw a weight lift
off her shoulders and she was quickly back to being her carefree

I, on the other hand, needed a lot more time to be ok with the
situation. If Maddie hadn’t been with me, I’d have
dropped the ornament on the ground and jumped up and down on it
right in front of her, just to be mean. Or perhaps I would’ve
laughed at the ten dollar request and walked away, tossing a buck
on the ground behind me. But Maddie was watching, and I had to do
the right thing. It took me a long time to forgive that woman, and
here’s why:

I put the ornament on the table after we got home and Cora went to
pick it up. Maddie ran at her – “Cora, NO! The arms
fall off if you just barely touch it!” Curious, I picked it
up and tried to take off the other arm. No luck. Then I looked at
where the arm had come off for Maddie, and saw that the arm had
already been broken once and glued back on – Maddie probably
barely touched it before the repair broke and the arm came off.
Knowing this, that woman made my kid – who is so gentle that
bees land on her arm – feel awful about something she
didn’t even do. Did I tell Maddie?

Yes, I did. I explained that the woman had lied to make more money,
and her greed had made her dishonest. The consequence of that
woman’s action meant Maddie’s feelings were hurt and I
was out ten bucks, but paying for the thing was still our
responsibility and Maddie still had to do the chores. She was
bewildered about the woman’s choices, but surprisingly fine
with still doing the chores – I think she felt as if it were
the family shouldering an unfair responsibility, and fulfilling it
honorably, and she was happy to be part of that family.

And as I watched Maddie rake leaves and sort laundry and help wash
the dishes to pay for an ornament she didn’t even really
break – and do so with a glad heart – I have to say,
I’ve never been prouder of my daughter.


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