It takes more than an apology to make things right

January 30th, 2014

Recently, Miss Mouse drew in a library book.

For reasons known only to her, she took a ballpoint pen to a library comic book about Green Lantern.  She gave some men mustaches, colored in the eyes of others, and doodled the name of the main heroine on several pages.

I was thrilled.

Well, no I was not thrilled.  I was flabbergasted and furious.  But I was also happy – not about the flagrant act of book defacement but about having such a clear-cut opportunity to help my firstborn learn about restitution.

It’s a tough thing to teach little people, this idea that sometimes making things right takes more than an apology.  We encourage our kids to apologize when they cause harm and try to model this behavior ourselves.  But I will freely admit that I do not always have the energy to allow my children to fully own their mistakes and take responsibility for fixing them.  Sometimes the path of least resistance is to cover for them or let things slide.

But this?  This moment of artistic irresponsibility was a golden opportunity.

When I learned of the indiscretion, I didn’t yell or stomp.  I mustered up my empathy, gave her a hug, and said: “Oh, honey.  That’s so sad.  How are you going to replace this library book?

She was thunderstruck.  Replace the book?  What?  How?  ME??

Lucky for me, Miss Mouse had received about $20 in Christmas money from friends and family and had not yet spent it.

Yes, love,” I continued.  “You are going to need to use your Christmas money to pay for the library to buy a new copy of the book since you drew all over it.

Heartbreak.  Instant and complete remorse.  And lots of tears.

She was absolutely devastated.  She apologized again and again and promised never to write in a book Ever Again.  I told her I believed her and that apologies were wonderful…but that the book still needed to be replaced.

So we grabbed her Christmas money and headed to the library.  I wanted her to handle the conversation with the librarians by herself, but that was asking too much.  She couldn’t do it.  Instead, she clung to me, sobbing, while I walked up to the counter and explained our situation.

The librarian solemnly thumbed through the book, but then – probably influenced by my dramatic daughter’s abject misery – decided that it was not ruined and thus did not need to be replaced.  The Christmas money was safe.

Miss Mouse sniffled and snuffled and apologized and we headed home.

It was a tough experience for my girl, even though she got off lightly in the end.  But as a parent, I’m glad it happened.  Errors in judgment usually cost less when you’re five than when you’re fifteen…or twenty-five…or fifty.  The stakes aren’t very high when you’re in preschool and although the lessons are hard to learn, they are much harder to learn when you’re older.

So, yes.  I was glad that Miss Mouse colored in that library book.


4 responses to “It takes more than an apology to make things right”

  1. Doris says:

    Someday I’ll tell you the story of Chris breaking a lamp at 2 and how I took him to the service desk to explain and say he was sorry and we would pay for it…the tears and sobbing were heartbreaking (and funny), but I too stood my ground…he was barely talking let alone forming an apology. The kind lady at the desk did the same thing–told him they had “coverage for breakage” but it was a lesson well learned. He never asked to get out of the shopping cart and walk beside me again!

    • Kate says:

      Those early experiences can really stick with you. I have CRYSTAL clear memories of stealing a button (one – a single button) from JoAnn Fabrics as a young child and having to take it back to the store!

  2. Jaclyn B. says:

    Told Jesse this story, and he thought your reaction was perfect. Books are returned ruined by crayon and marker all the time, and he was thrilled by how you handled it. I also thought you were awesome. good for you!

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