My seven-year-old watched me, his face innocent, and I asked again, "Did you take Cindy's money?"
Slowly Ty's forehead furrowed.
I had believed him when he first denied taking the money. Had my loving, trustworthy child totally duped me? Did I want to know the truth?
When I questioned him again, the truth finally came tumbling out.
As his sobbing quieted, I whispered, "Ty, you'll have to take the money back." He pulled away and cried, "No, I can't! They'll hate me forever! Can't you give it back?"
"No, Ty," I insisted, "I cannot do this for you. You must give the money back to show how sorry you are. They will forgive you. And once you do this very hard thing, you will be able to forgive yourself."
We retrieved his piggy bank and what was left of the $20 and headed out the front door. I stopped short on the porch. My car was gone; I'd sent my older son on errands.
Now what? Could we wait until later tonight? I looked down at Ty, solemn and trembling, and remembered myself at 7, waiting long hours for my punishment when Dad got home.
No, we wouldn't wait; we would walk the mile to Cindy's house. Walking the distance in order to make things right seemed somehow appropriate.
The early spring afternoon was lovely, but our purpose made it hard to enjoy. We walked along the old, cracked sidewalk; Ty's footsteps slowed with growing anxiety and were punctuated by murmurings of "Mom, I'm scared," and "This is too hard!"
My impatience grew as I repeated many times why no one else could correct this for him. For both of us, the long walk was infinitely longer with the terrible anticipation of confession.
When we crossed the street a block away from Cindy's house, Ty panicked.
"Let's wait here, Mom. Her house is too close. I can't do this - please don't make me!"
"No, Ty," I insisted as I grabbed his hand, "Come on!"
He must have thought I was heartless, but if he could have peered inside me, he would have seen his fears echoed there.
My empathy for him caused my own mouth to parch and my heart to race, but I could not end his agony or comfort him until he made this right.
We reached the house and marched right up the sidewalk, no hesitation.
When Cindy answered the door, Ty quickly handed her the money then hid behind me. The role of mouthpiece thrust upon me, I told Cindy how sorry Ty was for stealing her money and lying about it. As I spoke, I felt his head against my back, nodding in agreement. Cindy was gracious; she touched Ty's arm, saying, "It's OK now, Ty. I'm impressed that you came to say you're sorry."
Then it was over. We were back on the sidewalk. Ty looked at me, and we both sighed mightily in relief.
We walked without speaking, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the greening world that seemed suddenly more beautiful. I felt a light, refreshing breeze and smelled the heady scent of wet earth and new life.
"Well, Ty," I asked, "What have you learned from this?"
He stopped walking and looked at me seriously. "I'm never going to do that again, Mom."
"I sincerely hope not," I said as I folded his head into the crook of my arm and gave him an affectionate rub. "I don't think I could survive another walk like this."
"Me either," Ty agreed. Then he exclaimed, "Hey, Mom, ants!" We hunkered down on the sidewalk and watched the ants scurry, and we wondered if they were as happy to be alive as we were. Then we, too, headed for home.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society