This little fellow came home from childrens church with us last sunday.
I was distracted with a list of groceries in my head that needed picked up for the picnic'o'many-in-laws that afternoon, when Incrediboy came out of his class clutching the teeny beany lizard. He held it up to me with shining eyes and said, "Look, Mommy!" I emphatically (though absentmindedly) said, "Wow, he's neat!", as I herded him out the door and into the car.
As we drove home from the store and I watched him in my visor mirror, happily grasping the blue critter, I got to thinking about where it came from. It wasn't with us this morning. Maybe it shouldn't be with us now. In fact I was sure of it.
I sat him down when we got home and asked, "Honey, where did you get this lizard?"
"They gave it to me in sunday school," he said, gushing with love for his little friend.
"Did someone give it to you, or did you take it?"
He looked at me quizzically. "They gave it to me," he repeated.
"Are you sure? Did someone really give it to you, or do you think maybe you took this from someone?"
His eyes grew big and puppy doggish. He stroked the lizard's tail with his free hand and thought about things. "Do you think you might have taken it?", I asked again, leading the suspect. He looked down at the lizard. "I might have took it," he said in a quiet and shameful tone.
Ugh, that feeling of a rock in your stomach. I maintained a gentle approach.
"Honey, you can't take things that don't belong to you. Someone's probably really sad right now that they don't have their lizard. We need to take him back next week."
"But I want him," he explained in a sweet pleading voice.
"I know, honey. He's really neat. But what if someone took your Elmo and you didn't have him anymore? Wouldn't you be sad?"
His eyes grew misty. "Yes. I'd be really sad." He seemed on the verge of tears.
We talked a while about taking things, and how that would make someone feel. We talked about how it's not nice to treat someone and their things with disrespect that way. We talked about lying, even little lies. This was hard, breaking your little one's heart in the name of teaching morals and empathy.
I gently took the little lizard out of his hands and put it on a shelf, and he threw his arms around me sadly. "I'm sorry, Mommy," he said, in that pathetic tone that almost kills me every time. I hugged him and said, "Don't be upset, honey. We'll just take him back next week and find out who he belongs to, okay?" He agreed dejectedly.
In little time he seemed to forget about the lizard. But I thought about it all week. I thought about how to return the toy in such a fashion so as to make an impression without being too harsh on a tender, still-learning pre-schooler.
This morning I brought the lizard to church with us, and when Incrediboy saw it, he said nothing, but I could tell he remembered. I held Incrediboy close to me with one hand, making sure he was listening, and pulled the lizard out of my purse with the other as I explained to his teacher the whole incident. Incrediboy's big sad azure eyes didn't leave the lizard for a second.
"Oh, no, it's fine!", his teacher said. "We gave that to him last week to present to you for a Mother's Day gift. All the kids got one."
Oy vey. Relieved (though slightly humiliated on the inside), I said thank you for clearing it up, and we just wanted to make sure no one lost a friend due to the incident. His teacher smiled and said it was all right - they tried to explain the gift to all the mothers last week as they picked up the kids, but it was so busy they must have missed me.
After church I placed the lizard back in Incrediboy's gleeful hands. I told him I was sorry for making him admit something he didn't do, but I just wanted to make sure it was all right for him to have it. He looked at me with a big loving smile and said, "That's okay, Mommy." He gave me a big hug and kiss, and I did my best not to cry.
Lessons learned for both of us.