When I was in first or second grade I stole a package of Lifesavers from the grocery store.....
When I was in first or second grade I stole a package of Lifesavers from the grocery store.
I was standing next to my mom in the checkout aisle, watching the food slide by on the conveyor belt. Right next to me, literally in arm’s length, was the candy rack.
I’d always liked Lifesavers, those little hoop-shaped hard candies that were sold in little paper tubes.
And there was a whole box of them just a few inches away. No one was paying any attention to me...
...so I quietly pocketed one, feeling as glamorous and crafty as a cat burglar absconding with the crown jewels.
All the way home, I sat in the car with the tube of Lifesavers in my pocket, gloating how I had gotten away with something.
When we got home, I ran straight to the bathroom, locked the door, and Hoovered down the whole package in one sitting.
Here the story gets a little hazy. My first or second grader brain doesn’t recall how exactly my mother discovered I had stolen the Lifesavers. I’m guessing I must have left the scraps of wrapper sitting out or something.
Anyway, my mom was displeased. She was so displeased that when she finished putting away the groceries that needed to be refrigerated she scooped me back into the car and drove me back to the grocery store.
I’m sure I had no money in those days, so she must have handed me the 25 cents or whatever the Lifesavers cost. The fact I didn’t have to pay for them wasn’t the important thing.
I vaguely remember sitting in the car on the way back to the store, terrified.
My mom frogmarched me back into the store, and straight to the same aisle she had passed through the first time. Then there I was, facing the same cashier who had waited on us before.
My mother said something like, “Josh has something he’d like to say to you.”
Then, feeling like the scum someone tries to wipe off the bottom of his shoe, I whispered, “I stole some Lifesavers” and handed the cashier the quarter.
Then we got to go home.
It worked. Boy, did it ever make an impression. I never even attempted anything like that again.
Years later, in my 30s, I got to watch the same scenario play out again, this time as a bystander.
I was standing in line at the grocery store, and a mom and little boy were going through the same routine. The mom said the boy had stolen some candy and had something to say.
The boy apologized and began handing the cashier the money...
...and the cashier said, “Oh, that’s all right. We can cover it.”
And I thought, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
I’m sure it wasn’t my imagination that I saw a little lightbulb light up over the boy’s head, and him thinking, “Well, okay then!”
I promised myself once I’d never use the phrase, “What are we as a society doing when we...” in a column, but in this case I have to break it.
What are we as a society doing when we protect kids from the bad consequences of their own bad behavior? Who are we helping?
And how can we help stupid but well-meaning grown-ups stop it?