The little brown Honda Civic tipped to one side as I rounded the corner. I loved taking corners in my first car. The radio cranked as I shifted gears quickly without missing a beat.
“Check this out!” my friend said, while pulling out some new shoes from her backpack. I was confused as to how she had new shoes when we had just left the shoe store. She didn’t purchase any shoes.
“Aren’t these cute?” she boasted. As we pulled up to the stoplight, my 16-year-old naiveté peaked. “But how? I didn’t see you buy them.”
She had put the shoes in her backpack while I was in another section of the shoe store. She also thought that a store employee saw her take them, but wasn’t quite sure. I was in shock. I felt betrayed. How? Why?
I insisted we return to the store and admit to the crime. “No way,” she argued. I threatened if we did not return to the store and come clean, I would tell her parents. She crossed her arms in defiance.
“Life is the sum of all your choices.” – Albert Camus
I flipped the car around and headed back to the store.
And there pray tell was Johnny Law himself in front of the shoe store. I pulled up next to the patrol car. His black cop glasses gleaming in the sunlight, he strolled towards my car with his hands on his hips as if he were ready for a shoot out.
I sat in the car frozen. Will he pull a gun? Will we be handcuffed in public? Will we be on the local TV news channel? I could tell my friend (AKA the “thief”) was shaking in her boots. He leaned into my window.
“You girls doing some shopping today? Or maybe some stealing? Please step out of the car,” he ordered. I was about to pee my pants.
I sung like a bird. Telling him the entire story of how my friend stole the shoes, and I was the do-gooder/victim. He seemed to believe my story of innocence.
The officer confided that the store clerk saw my friend stealing the shoes and provided my license plate number. He informed me that a separate police car was en route to my home. The officer saw the look of fear in my eyes. He quickly picked up his radio and called off the police car to my home. There my father had the afternoon off from his law enforcement job and surely would have been home. I feared the repercussions for such a serious crime as shoplifting.
The whole concept of life choices and consequences is always a topic of discussion in our family – the other evening was no exception. My eight-year-old had chosen to not be truthful about brushing her teeth on multiple occasions. Sounds like a harmless fib, right?
I took her being untruthful seriously, though. I also viewed it as a teachable moment.
In a nutshell I explained to her: “Telling the truth makes up part of our character. When you decide to not tell the truth there are consequences. Life is made of up choices – roads to choose…”
I could see her eyes glaze over. Rather than continue with my “roads and choices” lecture, I thought to illustrate my point through a story in my life where I had a choice to lie or even steal….
I then shared the story of my friend stealing the shoes. She listened intently. I told her I had a choice in those few seconds as I sat in the car at the stoplight. I could have kept on going down the road, or I could have turned the car around.
Not only was my daughter intrigued by the story, I think it made a difference in her own choices. The next time I asked if she had brushed her teeth, she said, “No, mom. That’s the truth.”
I praised her honesty and for making the choice to tell the truth. By starting these patterns of open communication and honesty early on, I hope we’re building a foundation with our kids.
Turning Bad Into Good
Sometimes you make the “right” decision – and other times you don’t. Often times it is by our mistakes (or others) that we learn the most.
I decided to take the traumatic shoplifting experience in stride. First, by my friend making that mistake, I took a closer look at our friendship. We eventually parted ways because of this and her many other unhealthy choices.
According to the National Shoplifting Prevention Coalition, 89 percent of kids say they know other kids who shoplift. 66 percent say they hang out with those kids.
The next positive was as a writer for my high school newspaper, I decided to cover the topic of “five-finger discounts” amongst teenagers. I wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of shoplifting.
Most importantly, I wanted kids my age to know that life is about choices – the good and the bad.
Did you (or someone else) ever steal something and regret it? What happened? Was there a moment in your life that stands out when you chose the wrong road? Was it a learning experience or a teachable moment? How?