Last week Sean came home from school with a tiny padlock. I asked him where he got it and he told me that he had earned it at school.
I’m not quite clear on the specifics, but from what I gather, if you stay on “green” all day, you get four pennies. If you get in trouble for something, then you go to yellow and half of your wages are garnished. If you are really troublesome and have to go to red, then you have to go out in the school yard and pull weeds. No, not really, but I wouldn’t object to that.
Anyway, at the end of the week, you get to spend your pennies in Mrs. D.’s fabulous gift shop and maybe get something cool like a padlock.
So, on the way home from school earlier in the week, I asked Sean how his day went and if anything noteworthy happened.
“I got four pennies today!” he beamed.
“That’s great!” I said. “I’m so proud of you!”
“Yeah, and the best part is that I was on yellow, but Mrs. D. forgot and gave me four pennies anyway! I was only supposed to get two!”
“Oh,” I said quietly.
He didn’t see taking the two extra pennies as a lapse in character but rather a windfall.
I asked him if he thought there was anything wrong with that, taking the extra pennies even though he hadn’t earned them. He said no, that she had given him the four pennies, so they were his.
We had a brief discussion about how whenever you take or keep something that you haven’t earned or doesn’t belong to you, even by mistake, it’s stealing — even if it’s a small thing and even though it might seem like not a big deal.
I asked him what he thought he should do. He fell silent as he tried to think of a solution other than fessing up and returning the two pennies.
Finally he asked, “Give the pennies back?”
The next day when I picked him up, I asked him if he had remembered to give Mrs. D. the two pennies back.
“Yes,” he said, “and I did it the very first thing when I got there.”
“Very good,” I said, “What did she say?”
“She said thanks for reminding me,” he reported.
“Look right in my eye,” I told him. “I’m about to tell you something super important.”
I told him that I was very proud of him for doing the right thing, every bit as proud as when he earns four pennies.
He blinked both eyes at me and smiled and then abruptly changed the subject.
Hopefully, when I talk to Mrs. D., I’ll find out that it’s true, that he gave the pennies back. Otherwise I’m raising a stealer and a liar.