Just when you think you're getting the hang of this "being a mom" thing, something comes along and knocks the wind out of you so bad, you think to yourself, should I really be allowed to do this parenting stuff at all? Shouldn't I have taken some sort of classes first? Some sort of pre-screening evaluations? Or at the very least some genetic-type blood testing to see if I was even eligible for such a big task? Receiving an "F" in a course like How to Console Your Child Properly may have played a key factor in deciding to birth three children in a row. Or to have any at all, for that matter.
So here we are on Easter. Kids are finding their baskets and are mildly amused. Nothing like when they were in the low 5's, but still fairly happy. The oldest is a bit sassy when she doesn't see the hand lotion she requested in her basket. When I ask her what's the matter, she shrugs in her pre-teen angst and mutters, "Nothin'." She looks like a 105-year-old playing a 4-year-old game. How long do we have to keep this up anyway?
Instead of lavish gifts like ipods or a basket chock full of small, plastic throw-away toys, they have all received a nice, expensive hardcover book, a stuffed bunny, and some candy. It's Easter. It's not super fun present time. After just surviving Valentine's Day, I'm done with shelling out for stuff. Nothing says "I love you" like a good book and a stuffed rabbit.
My son gets a book he's been wanting called "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Part Two," which is typed in a font made to look like a handwritten diary, with tons of cartoony drawings taking up most of the pages. He finishes it in a half and hour tops. He says it was a great read and seems very satisfied. My oldest is already into hers, which is the 4th book in a series that she loves, and is eating her jelly beans out of a bowl like popcorn while she reads.
My youngest picks up her new hardcover Judy Blume (age appropriate, of course) and fakes a smile, to which I immediately respond, "You don't have to keep it if you don't love it." Then I selfishly think of the savings we would reap if she hates it. Being the youngest sucks sometimes. Plain and simple. Her siblings wanted books, so she got one, too. Fair's fair.
She looks at me for half a beat and says, "Okay, I don't want it then."
Fine. I struck out. It happens.
So my youngest plops the book down on my desk and goes on her merry way. Case closed. She's not even trying to banter an even exchange out of me for the book. She seems satiated with her stuffed bunny, which she of course names "Sarah" and tucks under her arm.
My son then brings his book to my office, where you can most often find me, and says, "Mom I'm done with this," and sets his new book down on my desk with a plunk.
"Do you want to keep it?" I ask while picking it up to inspect the binding to see if, for once, it didn't look like a wild animal mauled it or had a hearty breakfast on top of the pages. Really, he only held it in his paws for such a brief period of time, the chances were actually pretty good that it would still be intact. I was impressed. It looked returnable to me.
"Yep, I loved it. I'll probably read it again." Then he leaves. Without the book.
In my mind I'm thinking he will most likely want to read it again, in like say, a few months when it comes out in paperback and we can get it at the school Book Fair. Or knowing him, he'll forget he ever had it like the 50 other books I bought him for the last 10 Christmases, and it will ultimately sit in waste for years unread and neglected. Plus, it's the only book he's ever had in his life which doesn't look like a truck ran over it when he was done reading it. It's a literary miracle.
So I take it back.
I blatantly ignore the #1 "Cardinal Rule" for old and unwanted toys, which is simply: Put said toy away in an upper closet for no less than two full weeks to see if child requests its presence again. If child no longer remembers, said toy can be legally thrown out or returned.
And the whole time I'm shopping at Target, I'm smug, because I've just swapped both books in for what equals my super expensive printer ink. I'm feeling just fine and dandy about my book returning choice. Some would say I was elated.
This morning we are getting ready to start the day and my son comes into my bedroom and asks, "Where's my book?"
For a split second I evaluate my odds of winning this, being caught completely off guard by his request so soon after he abandoned his book in my office. Now what to do? What to do? Should I lie to him and tell him I'll look for it while he's at school and go out and buy him another copy or do I tell him the truth? He's a sensitive guy, but maybe it'll be no big deal. We can always get him a new book. He'll understand, right? It's just a book. I decide to go with the truth in a moment of weakness.
"I took it back."
He looks up at me with horror, "Whhhhat?"
"I took it back, because, you know, you read it so quickly," watching his face crumple, "But we can always check it out from the Library instead, or, maybe just go and get a new one?" I'm saying all this in my sing-songy Julie Andrews voice to lighten the blow, as I instantly see that my decision to tell him the truth was soooo not the way to go.
He turns his back on me and walks out of the room. Two minutes later my youngest comes into the bathroom and informs/tattles with glee that her brother is sobbing in his bedroom.
I go into his room and he's lying face down on his bed. "Honey, I'm so sorry I took it back. I thought you were done with it."
"I tooooold you I wanted to read it again!"
"I know, but I thought you meant in a few months from now, not right now, now."
"It was spppppecial. The Easter Bunny gave it to me! I loved it!" Sobbing.
"It was a really expensive book, and you read it so quickly. I'm sorry, I thought you were done with it for awhile."
"How do you know how expensive it was?" Lifting his head to look at me with unbridled aggression. "And I told you I wanted to keeeep it." He burrows his face further into his arms.
"I know you did, but I thought we could get it again from the Book Fair at school." I try and rub his back and he sluffs me off.
"It was myyyyy present. From the Easter Bunny! I wanted to keep it!" He muffle shouts at me.
How low can I possibly go? I just returned the kid's present after he said it was the best book he'd ever read and that he wanted to keep it. I am frantically trying to dig my way out of this one. He's supposed to be leaving for school in 7 minutes and he looks like his dog just died. I start to panic and think maybe I can still fix this. I take only a moment to contemplate my next move and decide unwisely to jump in head first without thinking it through.
"You know, maybe it's still in my car. I'm not sure if I returned everything yesterday or not." I peer at him out of the corner of my eye to see if I got away with it. Praying he won't make me prove it and knowing I can hide behind the "it's time for school we'll get it later" reasoning.
This is where taking The Basics of Parenting Children Ten and Up would have come in handy. The first thing on the syllabus would have been something along the lines of: Lying to distract your 9-year-old the same way you can distract your 3-year-old will not work. Abort! Abort! Must go to Plan B. And then Plan B would be a long laundry list of stuff to do, and there would be a big warning at the top of the list which would clearly read: "Never, ever return gifts they like because they WILL find out."
"You're lyyyyyying!" He spouts angrily.
I back peddle as quickly as I can and opt for a subject change as my only real line of defense, "Honey, this is no big deal. The book will be here when you get home."
"You said it was already in your car."
"You'll have your book when you get home from school, I promise."
"It won't be the same onnnnne! It's not going to be the one the Easter Bunny gave me." He gives me a How Could You glare and then hides his head back in the blanket.
"Yes it will, I'll go to the same place and pick it up."
"How can you pick it up if it's still in your car?
Good grief. How deep can I possibly dig myself in? The next thing on my list is to tell him he's adopted and we never really loved him.
I soothe him as best I can and get him out the door. He won't look at me and as he heads out he mutters over his shoulder, "Are you going to go and check your car now?" With a single tear glinting down his cheek.
This is coming from my sweet, mild-manner boy. The same boy who willingly runs after the younger kids in the neighborhood making sure they stay safe. The boy who I just emotionally wrecked for life with a series of really bad parenting choices. Crushing him felt like kicking a puppy. Or clubbing a seal for sport. I didn't blame him at all for being mad at me. He told me he wanted the book. I bought printer ink. I lose.
I call my husband.
He tells me I failed miserably as a parent this time. I tell him I'm going to make it up to our son. I throw my purse on my shoulder and run out to Target. I not only do I buy the book back, but I also buy the first one, too. In hardcover. The whole thing costs me double. I feel the pain should be more intense and look for a nice chocolate coated candy bar for the dressing.
Then I head straight to his school. I commando in and find a mom who happens to be waiting for a conference and I send her down his hallway first to see if it's clear. Then I run down to his locker, the only one without a name on the front, and put both books on top of his backpack. I stick a post-it note to the front that has a heart drawn on it with "MOM" at the end.
Then I bite my fingernails all day to see it it's enough.
You may think this is all a bit overkill, sitting there relaxed and all cozy in your house. But, honestly, you didn't see his face this morning. He's a really sweet kid who has, or had, faith in his mother's past sound decisions. He equated his mom taking his present with a burglar stealing his stuff in the night. Plus, I love him. I got him a book and then stole it. Happily buying printer ink and cackling like a witch when I got away with it.
He came home completely happy. Old grudge forgotten and halfway through the first book in the series for the second time. I should mention here that he read the first book at the Book Fair last year when I was working, and I made him put it back then, too. Claiming we weren't going to buy a book he had already read. So, this was twice I've assaulted him with a book he wanted to keep, plucking it out of his stringy little grasp like an ogre.
May this be a lesson to me. From now on I vow that all the toys I find laying around the house which seem neglected and forgotten will now be put into the closet on the top shelf for a full two full weeks or longer.
That or I just won't bother to ask them first if they want to keep said toy. If I do enough research, I think I'll find a clause in the Cardinal Rules that says: Mothers may toss or return any toy that the child does not expressly specify they want to keep beforehand.
That way when they cry at you on their way to school, you can shrug you shoulders and say, "I just honestly didn't realize you wanted to keep it. Have a good day!"
Come for some fun!