I am an unwitting criminal.

I was six. My family had just moved to Middleville from Grant where we lived with my grandparents for a time. There’s a good chance that we were still living in the fifth wheel camper that our grandparents lent us (this reminds me of a story for another time) when I began my life of crime.

It all started innocently enough. My mom, my brother and I were grocery shopping. Along with the everyday food staples, my mom had my brother and I pick out new toothbrushes. I don’t remember what mine looked like, but back then, it probably just looked like a small toothbrush. Not like today when the toothbrushes for kids are themed by their favorite cartoon character and equipped with supersonic cavity-fighting lasers or whatever. Nope, back then, it was just a stick with some bristles to knock the sugar off our teeth.

Anyway, however it looked, I must have been pretty excited about it, because I held onto it all through the store. And I continued holding it until we got out into the parking lot. As we approached the car, I held the toothbrush up to my mom and said, “Look Mom! We got this toothbrush for free!”

Oh man, was that the wrong thing to say.

“What?!” said my mom. “Did you just shoplift that toothbrush?”

“Um,” I said. “You told me to hang onto it, so I did.”

It was an innocent mistake. Any child could have made it. I never intended to steal the toothbrush, but that didn’t matter right then.

If memory serves, I got spanked right there in the parking lot. But it didn’t end there.

My mom marched me back into the store, alerted the nearest clerk to our presence with a parental ha-rumph, and announced in a voice loud enough to ring in my memory all these many years later, “My son STOLE this toothbrush and I need to pay for it.”

I’m trying to remember if I was subjected to that special, withering glare that clerks reserve for shoplifters, or if that was imagined. Probably, they understood immediately what had happened (because what child would steal a toothbrush when candy exists in the world?) and I was viewed with pity for being so loudly announced a criminal by my own flesh and blood. Either way, we paid for the toothbrush and left quickly.

As a parent, I now understand that my mom was probably exceedingly embarrassed by the situation. She probably wondered if I had intended on stealing the toothbrush, but reacted in such a way to show me that shoplifting (whether or not I was actually doing it) was wrong. And I’m sure that the humiliation that I felt has been magnified through the years by my poor memory and love of feeling like a victim.

In any case, I forgive my mom for being a well-meaning parent who reacts as best she can without holding all the facts.

And Mom, if you are reading this, I hope you can forgive me for putting you through this, and many, many more embarrassing situations.

And God, if you are considering arranging for me to be put into a situation where one or both of my daughters innocently picks up a toothbrush and we walk out of the store without paying for it just to see if I would do the same thing as my mom, let’s just consider my lesson learned and move on to blessing me in ways that only You can think of.

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4 responses to “I am an unwitting criminal.

  1. My son did it to his grandma, as you know stores believe it is a good idea to put sweets at pushchair level, he was only 18 months old and she was rushing paying for her shopping as there was a big queue behind her only when they got home did she find the sweetie hidden in his pushchair

    • I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in the “accidental criminal” underground. We are a seedy lot.

  2. I did this in high school, only by an unlucky mistake. On the way home from a soccer game my team raided (and paid for) food at a gas station. I picked up some gum, but then realized I had some at home and decided to put it back on the shelf. Then, when I got home, I discovered the exact pack of gum in my pocket. There can only be two reasons for this. One, I merely got distracted and put it in my pocket out of complete absentmindedness. Or two, I have another personality that is hell bent on doing everything contrary to what I believe is right and good in this world. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

  3. I did this at about the same age, but completely on purpose. And it was a Smurfette figurine, not a stinking toothbrush. My mom also marched me right back into that store, and it was a lesson I will never forget. Now I’m a trustee at church, and the humiliation of being caught stealing ensures I treat all of God’s money with utmost care.

    And I think maybe you made God laugh there at the end, but whether that gets you IN TO or OUT OF a similar situation, I can’t guess.

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