When I look back over my childhood, I have many memorable experiences, some good and some not so much. The first one that comes to mind occurred when I was about four years old and though the memory is uncomfortable, the lesson I learned was most valuable. I learned then the lesson of a child, of right and wrong and the consequences of stealing and lying. When I was older and started working, I was able to look back on the experience and realized I had learned from it to always check with parents before responding to a child so as not send conflicting and mixed messages. And another lesson was learned when I, myself, became a mother of two children that I needed to teach virtues and morals too.
When I was at the store one day with my mother, I had noticed a small bottle of Elmer’s glue on an aisle rack where it didn’t belong, so I removed the bottle. I vaguely remember bringing it home and for a short time I smeared glue on my hand, let it dry, and then peeled it off like sun burnt skin. Several days later, my mother handed me the bottle of glue and asked me where it had come from. I told her I had found it. She then asked me where I had found it. I explained to her that it was at the store on the rack with gravy mixes and because it wasn’t a gravy mix, I took it off the rack. Now, apparently I must have known it was wrong because I had tried to hide it under my bed. My mother found it while vacuuming my room and when she asked me why it was under the bed, all I could do was shrug. I knew I was in big trouble.
I kept all of my money in my jewelry box, mostly pennies, and when my mother told me to get my jewelry box and start counting out forty-nine cents, the price on the bottle, I was really upset. I didn’t think I even had that much. But the worst was yet to come. As I sat and counted out my precious few pennies, I cried. I did have enough, but very little more. Mom then told me to get into the car. We were going back to the store and pay for the glue. When we arrived, my mother asked for the manager and when he came out to meet us, my mother told him that I had something to tell him. I never saw it coming! I really started crying, but Mom stood her ground. So I looked up at the man and started pulling pennies out of my pockets and said I was paying for glue that I forgot to pay for days before. The manager took my pennies and chuckled. He said to me, “Oh, that’s OK.” The next thing I heard was my mother’s angered voice. “No sir! That most certainly is not OK! Stealing is never ok and I do not appreciate it one bit that you would try and tell my daughter otherwise!” She then took me by the hand and we left.
On the way home, we never spoke a word. As a matter of fact, we never talked about it again. But I will never forget the experience. My mother had a way of teaching us important things with actions more than words. Had my mother sat me down and talked to me about how stealing is wrong, I most certainly would have forgotten about it days, or even hours later. It was counting my own money and facing someone with my wrong and the uncomfortable embarrassment I felt, that stuck that lesson in my mind and kept it there all these years later. Thanks Mom!