Backslides and Breakthroughs


Yesterday was a difficult day of sorts. Ethan had a half-day because of AIMS testing. When his bus stopped in front of the house, his grandmother was here to pick him up to take him to the movies.

That afternoon, when my wife and I arrived home we loaded in the car for errands and grocery shopping. Life was good. No drama, no overloaded emotions, just the pure idyllic anticipation of the coming rainstorm, and the chance to cuddle by the window and listen to the rain strike the screen, and then a game of hide and seek in the house with the lights out, ‘because I was a good boy on my last half-day of school.’

The anticipation of the pending storm, which really wasn’t due to arrive for several more hours, created an incessant need to have our oversized umbrella with us. Lengthy was the discussion of whether or not we needed to keep it in the car or whether we should drag it along with us through out Albertson’s. Once that was finally settled for the unknownth time, there was the need to discuss and decide who got to put it behind the seat—Ethan or Emma?

That debate resulted in Emma’s foot brushing against Ethan’s leg. Being in the back seat of a small car and the uber-close proximity they shared could not have had anything to do with it. Accidental this was not; Emma intentionally “kicked me,” was clear and decisive. It was an act of war! The duration of the protest against Emma for this war crime was nearly twenty minutes. Every movie quote from movies not seen in years surfaced to express, and re-express his frustration. Eventually the protest died down as we got our cart, and divide up into teams to tackle the grocery shopping. Emma and my wife were team one, assigned as advanced scouts, while Ethan and I were assigned to mobile supply and logistics operations with the cart.

We advanced through the produce section, selecting cantaloupes, lettuce, and apples. We nearly lost composure gasping at the price of cucumbers, marked with the Supply and Demand placard reminding us of the devastating frost in parts of the world that creates the privilege of gouging consumers… Then we entered the tomato aisle.

‘Dad, what things are these?’ as he pointed to Asparagus.

‘Asparagus,’ I said, and waited for quotes from Veggie tales to surface.

Then he saw it, nearly camouflaged in the vine ripened tomato bin, was a baseball sized light magenta rubber bouncy ball.

As quickly as he picked it up, I told him to put it back. He placed it back in the bin, and we walked away. We shopped for another thirty minutes or more. Aisle after aisle we walked up and down, scanning shelves for items on our list. We covered nearly every corner of the store, stopping several times along the way, but never backtracking!

Eventually our supply procurement was complete and we unloaded at the cash register to weigh and evaluate the damage. Puzzled, we compared the subtotal to the sacristy of grocery bags back in the cart, scratched our heads, squeezed the turnip, and obtained our receipt.

We arrived home, and quickly began the task of putting away the groceries. The evening then screeched to a halt. Something had happened, unknowingly, that sent us backsliding at a high rate of speed. The realization of what had occurred left us sore, and dazed as life suddenly slammed to a stop. There in Ethan’s hand was the baseball sized light magenta rubber bouncy ball.

‘Where did that come from?’ I demanded, almost in shock.

My mind raced to understand how he could have snuck that away. He had been with me the whole time. In the nanosecond it took for him to reply, ‘Dad, because it was fun,’ my mind retraced our steps.

We HAD put it back and never returned to the tomato aisle!

I had even frisked him in the cereal aisle when I noticed his hand kept darting into his pant’s pocket. It had been his dinosaur book and a few small animals that he normally keeps with him. I had even checked him again when he kept touching the packages of bacon as we selected eggs from the cooler.

I had never spotted this ball, ever!

‘Where did you have this?’ I asked.

‘It was in my pocket,’ pointing to his right pocket.

Impossible, I thought, I had looked at him, specifically that side of him, and I never saw anything that would have led me to think he had shoved a baseball sized object into his pants.

As I put the groceries away, Ethan and my wife returned to the store to make amends. They spoke with the Assistant Manager, returned the ball, and made confession,

‘I’m sorry I stole your ball, because it is fun!’

They returned home and Ethan was advised that because he ‘had not been a good boy’ we were not going to play hide and seek. He explained, ‘But dad, I’m sorry I stole the ball, because it is fun.’

He kept repeating that phrase in his robot-like metered and monotone voice. The disclosure of his actions repeatedly buried by his jumbled emphasis and word choices. He had not taken the ball because stealing is fun. The ball was fun. That fun-ness is what compelled him to take it, and by taking it, it became stealing.

Five years had passed since we last had this issue at a public place. Each time, the object taken, was taken not because of some need to gain an advantage and avoid paying for it, but because the fun-ness of the object overwhelmed him and he could not put the thought away. He stole a chocolate candy, not because he liked chocolate, he would have never eaten it. He stole it because it was wrapped like a small Christmas present. The lipstick he took, was not taken because Red Revival 645 was his color, but because the case was small and shiny.

Apparently we have not quite conquered this compulsion, and Adventures in Backsliding (sounds like a bad movie form the 80's) are still on our horizon. But we did have a breakthrough last night, a magnificent one to be exact.

While sitting on the bed behind me, Ethan, for the first time ever, composed and formulated in his mind a well-written letter without the aid of a piece of paper or promptings from a teacher’s aide. He simply said,

Dear Dad,

I’m sorry I stole the ball from Albertson’s.

Your son,
Ethan.

Machiavelli was right, ‘Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis.’

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