When you are a parent, you try hard to instill basic values into your children as they are growing up. Mind your parents, mind your teachers, follow the rules, be respectful to others, respect their property, don’t be selfish or mean, etc.
And as a parent, you have the responsibility to practice what you preach as well or else you will suffer the painful consequences of watching your children do as you do, and not as you say. Not good.
But just like life will often throw you a curveball, there are some situations that will pop up when a parent has to waver between teaching your child to follow the rules but maybe the rules have to be broken. It’s a hard decision to make. But sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands.
When my daughter, Tara, was going to begin 1st grade in a few weeks in 1989, we went school supplies shopping. She was into a Garfield kick then so I bought for her a big Garfield eraser, a cute Garfield statue that had a pencil sharpener under his feet, a bunch of Garfield pencils, Garfield scissors, a blue ruler that had “TARA” printed on it, and a desk-sized Garfield box to hold all of her school supplies.
Remembering only too well that other school kids will sometimes “borrow” stuff, I took a Sharpie black marker and put her initials, “TNB”, on the bottom of everything, including on the sides of all of her pencils.
Tara was so happy and proud of all her new Garfield things that she would often take everything out of her Garfield pencil box and line them up to admire them.
Her happiness in her new possessions lasted only about a month. She was crying when I picked her up from school one day and she tearfully told me that this bigger boy in her class had taken all of her Garfield things, as well as her blue ruler with her name on it, out of her desk and then put them into his own.
She had angrily asked for them back but the kid just laughed at her. When she went up to Mrs. Sines, her teacher, and explained that that kid had taken her things, the teacher refused to believe that he had done so and had curtly ordered Tara back to her seat. That other kid, who had heard the entire conversation, only laughed harder at her.
So I sat there in the car, stunned that that teacher had so callously dismissed Tara’s request to have her things given back to her. So I advised Tara to tell her teacher the next day that Tara’s initials were on everything, and that her first name was on that blue ruler as well. Then Tara could prove that those were her possessions now in his desk and that they did not belong to that boy.
When I picked Tara up after school the next day, she was still in tears. She had done as I had asked her to, but the teacher had angrily told her that she did not have the right to search that boy’s desk and to stop bothering her.
Now I was hopping mad. I immediately called the school when I got home and asked if I could have an appointment the next day after school with Mrs. Sines about this situation. She reluctantly agreed to meet with me.
The next day after school Tara was also going to attend the first meeting of her new Brownie Girl Scout troop so this worked out great for us both time-wise.
I met Tara at her classroom door just as the bell rang and I escorted her to the right school room and introduced myself and Tara to the new troop leaders. I told Tara that I would be there in an hour to get her after her troop meeting was finished. Then I walked back to Tara’s 1st grade classroom for my own meeting with her teacher.
Mrs. Sines patiently listened as I explained that all of those Garfield school supplies, and I listed exactly what had been taken, meant a lot to Tara and that I didn’t think it was fair that another classmate could just take them from her desk and put them into his own without being made to give them back. That what he had done was called stealing and that there should be consequences for his actions.
Mrs. Sines replied, “Well I don’t have the right to go searching through that boy’s desk and how am I supposed to know that he also does not have the same Garfield things?”
I explained to the teacher that all of Tara’s things had her initials on them and that that boy’s initials were not at all the same as Tara’s. The blue ruler had the name of “TARA” printed on it and I didn’t believe that his name was also Tara, correct?
I further explained to Mrs. Sines that it would be a simple matter of opening that boy’s desk, and finding all of the things I had just listed to her and it would be easy to identify them because they would all have the initials “TNB” or “TARA” printed on them.
Mrs. Sines then replied back, in a very miffed tone of voice, “I just told you that I don’t have the right to go through that kid’s desk!”
I firmly replied, “Are you telling me that that kid has the more important right of getting away with stealing Tara’s personal belongings, while he laughs at her, because you won’t verify that they were stolen? Are you kidding me? What is that teaching both of those kids? You are teaching Tara that her own teacher will not stand up for her when something wrong has been done to her but you are also teaching that kid that he can just take whatever he wants because he knows he will get away with it! His supposed rights to keep whatever is in his desk should also have applied to Tara’s rights to be able to keep what was in her desk in the first place!”
“Well, I am sorry you that feel that way but I am not going to look in his desk. Tara will have to work out this situation for herself. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go home and grade classwork.” And she flipped her hand at me for me to leave.
Since there was at least 45 more minutes before I could go back into the school and meet Tara after her troop meeting, I sat out in my car, angrily thinking about what I was going to say to Tara. I had been so positive that meeting with her teacher would get her a much better outcome.
Then I watched as the teacher left in her car and I vowed that Tara was going to get her stuff back and damn the consequences.
When I met Tara after her Brownie meeting, I looked around as I told her, “C’mon, follow me.” Mystified she did and we ducked into her 1st grade classroom.
“Tara, show me where that kid’s desk is.” She pointed it out and I lifted the lid. In amongst that kid’s papers and books and his pencils were all of Tara’s Garfield supplies, as well as her blue ruler with her name on it.
I began taking the Garfield stuff out, checking to make sure that yes, her initials were right where I had marked them. Tara looked back around at the door as she whispered to me, “Mom, I don’t think we’re supposed to be in here. Can’t we get into trouble?”
I told her, “If there will be anybody getting into trouble, it will be me, not you. But I’m not really worried about getting into trouble. I’m just taking back what is yours. But we will talk about this more when we get home.”
I grabbed her blue ruler too and I asked her if that was everything that kid had taken from her. She checked her desk and his and she said yes, that was everything. I put her things back into her own desk and then we left to go back home.
When we were sitting in my recliner in my bedroom, with Tara on my lap, I explained to her exactly how the conversation had gone between me and her teacher.
Tara asked me, “But, Mom, if my teacher thought it was wrong to look in his desk, then wasn’t it wrong for you to do that?”
I told her, “Honey, I truly do believe that your teacher, for a reason I did not understand at all, honestly believed that that was wrong. But I also honestly believed that it was a much bigger wrong for that kid to have taken your things in the first place and that it was a much bigger wrong for your teacher to let him get away with it.”
She gave me a puzzled look as she then asked me, “But you always said I had to mind my teacher. Don’t you have to mind her too?”
And I sighed as I told her, “I know this is hard to understand. But like I told your teacher, by her deciding to not check that kid’s desk to even determine if yes, your things had been stolen, like we found out they really had been, I honestly believed that she was teaching both of you kids the wrong lessons. She was teaching you that by standing up for yourself, when a wrong had been done to you, just wouldn’t do you any good. She was also teaching that kid that it was okay for him to steal from other people because he could get away with it. And because I believed that the greater wrong was done to you than the possible wrong that I did by going into his desk to get back your things was more important.”
I then told her, “Sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands but we have to also figure out if more harm than good will be done. And we also have to be willing to gracefully accept the consequences, and not moan and groan and complain, if we ever do make a decision that does turn out to be a bad one.”
“In other words, if it is reported to the teacher or to the principal that I had gone into that other kid’s desk without anybody’s permission, and I got into trouble about it, then whatever happened after that, I would have to gracefully accept that I had been wrong, make apologies, and to somehow try and make it better.”
I also told Tara that until she became an adult and could then be a better judge as to when or if she had to sometimes take matters into her own hands, that she had to still mind me, her grandma, and her teachers and police officers.
Tara thought about everything for a while and then she asked me, “So do you think you did the right thing?”
And I hugged her as I told her, “Yes, I really do believe I did, and I could end up being very wrong about that, but I still do believe that I did the right thing. I tried to have you solve this on your own with your teacher because I had believed that your teacher would not let that kid get away with stealing your stuff. I tried to also talk to your teacher but she believed that it was more wrong for her to look into that kid’s desk than the greater wrong that he did by stealing things from you in the first place. And in my opinion what she did not do and what that kid had done were greater wrongs than me getting your stuff back that was stolen from you. So yes, I believe I did do the right thing. At least, I hope I did.”
I told Tara to not say a word to anybody about how she got her stuff back and that I would bet that that kid would not say a word either when he finds out she has it all back. And that if, for any reason, she was asked by her teacher about any of this, to just tell her teacher to call me if she has any questions, okay? She agreed and then she thanked me for getting back of all her Garfield things.
And like I predicted, that kid didn’t say one word to Tara when he found out that the things he had stolen from her were now back in her desk, and her teacher never mentioned anything more about it to either Tara or to me. And Tara never had anything else stolen from her ever again.
Do I still believe it was okay for me to take matters into my own hands? Yes, I still do. But you are more than welcome to comment whether or not you agree or disagree with me.