It's an unexpected day off for Isaac. Last night, he had terrible dreams that kept him awake from 3 am to a half an hour before it would have been his usual time to get up for school. I knew it would be senseless to send him exhausted, so we have had the day together (after he slept for quite a while). After thanking me profusely for letting him stay home, I told him I had plans for the day. "Where are we going?" he said a little perturbed. He already had plans of his own to play Disney Infinity for...well, infinity. "I have a morning coffee date planned with Miss Melanie, so you can come and play with Autumn while we're there." This appeased him.
The time with my dear friend was lovely--the two kids played well, and shared some coffee cake. When it was time to leave, Isaac had found two Hot Wheels cars that he hadn't had a chance to play with. I asked him to please help clean up so we can go home for lunch. Hugs, thanks, and a few laughs later, and we were in the van, making the 10 minute drive home. (Praise God for friends near and dear to my heart, and my house!)
Nonchalantly, Isaac pulls a tiny purple toy sports car from his coat pocket. I watch him inspect it in the rear view mirror. "Buddy...what's that?" I ask. "Mom, it's the car I liked! Isn't it awesome!?" For just a second I was about to respond with a "yeah it is!" or "wow, it's SO awesome!" but instead, I asked a more serious question. "Isaac, did you ask if you could take that car with you?"
The van went silent. I watched his face dim as he held the car up closely to his face to inspect each detail, the miniature chrome finish shining and beckoning him to play..."No...I didn't ask."
If there is one thing I cherish (and there are many) I think one of the most beautiful of Isaac's is his honesty. Perhaps that will change as he grows, but for me, it's a glistening part of his character that I desire to polish to a brilliance, not unlike that of his pilfered toy car.
As much as I could have let it slide...just said, "you know we don't take things without asking" and then continued to let him play with the car...I knew I couldn't. I had to use this opportunity to do one of the most difficult and trying and sometimes painful jobs of parenting--instruct and discipline.
I asked Isaac to hand me the car at the next red light. When we stopped, he looked at me, and then the car, and slowly handed it over. "Mom, can I have it back?" His lower lip began to quiver. I took a breath in through my nose and shook my head, "No, buddy. Do you know why?" His eyes filled with tears and he began swiping his face to prevent them from spilling over (Isaac has a sensory disdain for tears on his face--he just doesn't like to cry or deal with others crying). This made me feel sick to my stomach, but I knew it was a lesson we were already knee-deep into, so I needed to keep going.
He blinked feverishly and said, "Because I took it without asking." "Right." I said, softly. "And that is stealing, buddy. When you take something that doesn't belong to you without asking, that's stealing." Now, at that point, as a mom of a child who has special needs (and, frankly, as a mom in general!), I started arguing with myself--he doesn't quite understand...don't be hard on him...it's okay, just give him the car and let him be happy and smiling like his usual self again. Life is hard enough for him. The rebuttal: But am I, as a parent, honoring God's desire for me to train up my son in the attributes of His character and to teach him that choices have consequences? By giving in and not teaching him, am I making life harder for him in the long run? Isaac is smart. He knows and understands more than I think. I would do him a disservice by denying him the freedom to learn and understand. Isaac needs to experience and recall...no matter how much I want to keep him from that in a scenario such as this. NO, I told myself...this little toy car is a big deal.
Isaac put his head in his hands in the backseat, and he began to sob. I realized, I didn't need to yell or lecture. I let the heart do it's work. "I'm so sorry, Isaac, but I am going to keep the car until we can return it to Miss Melanie's house, okay?" He didn't look at me in the mirror like he usually did when we were having a talk. In fact, at the next stop light, I turned around and asked him to look at me. He picked his head up and said, "if you don't give me the car back, then you're being a really mean mom." Ouch. I smiled at him with grace, "Oh buddy, if I DID give you the car back I would be a SUPER mean mom." "Why?" He said between sniffs. "Because my job as your Mommy is to love and teach you and at times, discipline you...even though it hurts my heart." Isaac looked up at me and said, "It hurts you?" "Yes, it hurts me, because I want to give the car back to you, but I know that's not the lesson that you need to learn--you need to understand that when you steal, you break a rule, and there are consequences. This is a bad consequence." We went over that big word again and what it meant...how he would feel when someone stole a car from him...but the tears still flowed. I was glad we pulled into the driveway then, so I could jump out, swallow the giant lump in my throat, open the door and pull him into my arms and hold him and tell him gently that I loved him and God SO much, and that's why I am a "mean" mom sometimes.
After a long time of holding him, wiping his tears, and going over the essentials of why stealing is something that breaks God's heart and hurts others...his face was splotchy and red, but I had held it together. I hadn't given in, I hadn't turned back. I had pushed through because I love Isaac, and know that my Heavenly Father loves him even more. We prayed together, asking God to forgive and help Isaac next time to make a better choice. I knew Isaac understood. He felt it in his core. And when we deal with this again (which I am positive we will) we have a memory to go back to. And he will probably remember the exact date and time, because in addition to his honesty, he's a walking calendar.
Loving means sacrificing. It means doing things that are uncomfortable, things that often portray you as the "bad guy" or "mean mom." Why am I okay with that? Because I know the result of teaching and training--it will produce obedience in love with respect. I am building trust not only between myself and my son, but between him and the God who is a merciful, loving, yet strict disciplinarian. A dichotomy that today, for this mommy, made sense. I know in my heart of hearts it did for Isaac too.