Last Spring, the boys and I got invited to a play date after school. It was a half day of school and a generous mom of a boy in Jack’s class invited us over. With her two boys, my two boys and an extra boy from Jack’s class, it was guaranteed little kid fun. In a matter of minutes there were superhero figurines strewn about the floor, video games going on in the corner and a mish mash of hopping on furniture and leaping from one room to the next. They were all in heaven.
I was a little nervous going into it because new interactions tend to be hard for me. I had talked to this mom off and on at the pick up line after school. We were both about ten years younger than the average age of most of the other parents at the school and we both had had two kids in less than two years. Gravity used those two identifiers to pull us together and produced some good conversation each afternoon. I was excited, as well as apprehensive, to spend the afternoon at her house.
This mom was winning all the good mom and best host awards right away. She put a spread of fruits and veggies onto the table along with the corresponding dips. Organic apple juice boxes were offered up and gluten free cookies were promised if a fair amount of the “good” stuff was consumed.
After seeing her spread, I felt a little self conscious. During the last play date I hosted, I chucked a box of Cheez-its out the back door and told the kids to go play in the mud.
After the consumables were consumed vigorously, the tiny males scattered again. Some stayed inside to play and others went out to play on the backyard swing set. This amazing mom and I quickly got into a very interesting conversation. You see, after she realized her youngest, who was on the Autism Spectrum, was gluten intolerant, she started her own business out of her home. Since she had a talent for baking and her son couldn’t eat most of the traditional baked goods, she formed a gluten-free bakery out of her personal kitchen. Talk about ingenious. Her idea was on current trend and she filled a niche that not a lot of people ventured into.
I was amazed. I asked her all about the science behind it and how she got the ingredient combos to work without the standard chemical reactions. In the midst of talking about fondant and how to shape certain cakes, Jack and the other boy from his class went out to play in the backyard. Luke and the two resident kiddos stayed inside to game it up in the corner of the living room.
Jack and Gus (we’ll call him that even though he has a much cooler name) had been out there for about twenty minutes when I noticed both of them quietly slink back inside to play Mario Brothers. Hmm. I got a twinge that something was a bit off, but I was too fascinated by how you can make sugar cookies without wheat flour.
The playdate was still going along successfully when we heard a knock at the door. It was the neighbor lady from next door. All I could see was a puff of gray streaked curly hair standing on the stoop.
A low, gravelly voice emerged from the poof, “I used to have young boys, so I kind of understand this is normal, but some boys were throwing rocks over the fence and hit my brand new pick up truck.”
WHAT??? My heart starting beating faster and my face warmed up to a nice bright pink. I looked over to Jack with my eyes shooting fire daggers. Gus started to cry and went to hide under the kitchen table. Jack’s face paled and he started to quietly cry. What in the world?
The dark poof kept going, “I just bought the truck a couple months ago so it was in pristine condition. After the rocks, there are four dents on the hood and the windshield is cracked. I totally understand this is a kid thing, but I want to figure out how to get my truck fixed and back to the original condition.”
The stellar host mom started to panic, “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. We will definitely figure this out. Give us a minute with the boys and I’ll give you a call back.”
That satisfied the poof and she hustled back to her house and her dented truck. We sat Jack and Gus down to get their side of the story. Through tears, they fully admitted to throwing the damaging rocks. It was a pretty simple story. They saw some rocks on the ground, both threw some over the fence, the rocks crashed into something on the other side, then they came back inside to play.
Since Gus’s mom wasn’t there, I took it upon myself to explain the repercussions to both of them. “So, now that you two damaged the truck, some things have to happen now. The neighbor lady has to get it fixed and she isn’t the one who is going to have to pay for it. It’s probably going to cost a lot to fix it and our two families are probably going to have to cover the bill. I’m not sure how much it will be, but I know that it is a lot more than what you have in your piggy bank.”
Both began crying again and Gus kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for what I did….Okay, now I feel better. Can we play superheros now?” Umm, not quite.
The host mom went to go call Gus’s mom, while I stepped out to call Tim. Jack started crying even harder. He didn’t want Tim to be disappointed in his behavior, but he knew it was inevitable.
I wanted to get out of that house as soon as possible so I left my contact information to be relayed to the neighbor and hustled the boys into the van. I wasn’t thinking clearly so I didn’t make Jack go over to apologize to the neighbor. Plus, I wasn’t even sure if Jack was the one who threw the rocks or if he was just the sidekick, so I didn’t want to admit any fault that would later be picked up by the insurance company. I totally understand both the role of the thrower and the sidekick cheering squad are at fault, but as I said, I wasn’t thinking clearly.
Later that night, Tim and I were discussing our options and obligations when Jack came in with his piggy bank and wallet. He spilled everything on our bed and said he would pay for the damage. We told him we appreciated his sentiment but it would probably take all of his allowances until he turned 18 to pay for it all. The real lesson here was understanding how our actions affect others. We have to seriously think before we do things and understand all the consequences.
I was still under the impression that this began as Gus’s idea and Jack was following him over the rock throwing cliff. You might call it the mommy blindspot but I couldn’t picture Jack orchestrating this adventure. When all the emotions had evened out, Tim sat Jack down and asked him again about what happened that afternoon.
Tim: So, who’s idea was it to throw rocks over the fence?
Jack: I don’t know, both of ours, I guess.
Tim: When you threw the first rock over the fence did you hear it hit something?
Tim: Did you know it was a truck?
Tim: After you knew if was a truck, did you throw another rock?
Jack:……Yeah, a few more.
DAMNIT! We were going to have to pay through the nose for this.
All sorts of insurance companies got involved, there were inquiries, multiple quotes to fix the damage and lots more drama. There was finger pointing and some parties refused to take responsibility. The powers that be determined that the responsibility would be split three ways: the two families of the rock throwers and the nice mom who technically owned the rocks since they came out of her backyard. Tim and I didn’t think that was fair to the nice host mom so we paid our third plus Jack’s half of her share.
During this process we had multiple heart to hearts with Jack. I’m pretty sure he learned his lesson, but only time will tell. We made sure to emphasize that we all make mistakes. At some points in our life, everybody makes poor choices. It’s how we act after the fact and how we try really really hard not to repeat those same mistakes. There is no point in dwelling on the situation once it’s done and after you have made ammends.
In our family we have a secret handshake that indicates a grace-filled start-over. Three fist bumps, while saying, “Let’s move on.” The person who is asking for a re-do starts it and the other person can’t participate unless they agree to give the grace. Simply verbalized, but so hard to put into practice. Grace is a discipline and we all need to ask for it and give it. Grace is a daily practice. Some days we fist bump more than a few times. Other days, none at all.
This is a good childhood lesson but some adults have a really hard time with it too. Heck, giving myself grace is hard on most days. I lash out and place blame on others or myself. Not helpful and never healthy. I need an internal, “Let’s move on,” instead of dwelling on it forever. Those rocks will never unthrow themselves. The damage is already done. We just have to pay the fine and move on.
Let’s all say it together, “LET’S MOVE ON!”