Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Bookmark and Harsh Words

GL is a thief. I don't mean that in the technical sense that he stole one thing on a particular occasion. It bothers me when anyone applies such a label, especially to a child, after one or every instance of bad behavior. Calling him a liar after one lie, a cheater after he breaks one rule, or a thief after he appropriates, intentionally or not, one item belonging to someone else, fails to distinguish between an event and a habit, between one act and the sum of his character. It is an unjust accusation, and encourages a habit of that wrongdoing by making it his identity—in his own mind, and in the minds of all who hear it. It implies that he can't change. Even with a habitual offender, I would focus on a behavior that he can and should change. While character precedes action, repeated action is the means by which it grows, for good or evil.

That said, let's call a manually operated digging implement a spade. If you leave movable property unlocked, he will take it. He can't hold everything at once, so when he takes something, using it is less important than finding a place for it. He doesn't hide his swag because once he takes it, he doesn't expect the owner to want it back. The important thing, apparently, is that he selects a different location than where he found it. If I return it to its original place, he takes it back, sometimes to the place he had it, and sometimes to a different place. If I find something he has taken and want to be able to find it again, it is best to leave it where he put it—he might not move it before I need it.

It's not that he fails to understand the concept of property. He just believes that everything that is not nailed down is his, and anything he can pry up is not nailed down. Everything is a gift of nature for him to appropriate. He gets very angry if I try to take back something he's rightfully stolen. At one point he had a special interest in paper. He collected papers—receipts, bills, contracts, advertisements, newspapers, letters, any paper with writing on it—to carry around, stuff in his pockets, periodically pull out to inspect, and stuff back in his pockets, toy box, bookshelves, or closet. He would become enraged if someone threw out a Classified section he hadn't looked at in months, but throw my lecture notes in the trash minutes after stealing them because he had no particular use for them.

He still collects some papers, but at the moment prefers books and DVDs. We are a family of readers. No house would be home without a few thousand books. Every time he visits any other home, he borrows several books. He usually asks. Friends and family won't say no. So our house is also filling up with other people's books that he doesn't look at, but refuses to return. We try to sneak them back when we can. We request library books online, and stealthily send BB to pick up and return. When GL demands to go to the library, we hurry him in and out as quickly as possible. We don't go to Barnes and Noble any more. He thinks of it as a library. They have books, and you check out when you leave, no? If we say you need money to get books here, and he has a dollar, or ten dollars, or twenty-seven cents, it's all the same to him. He got a B&N gift card for his Christmas. He loves his new book, and we got him in and out of the store without incident, but it wasn't easy. You go to a place that looks like a library inside, look for books, go up to the counter where they scan your card and your books, but you can only take one book home?

There's always something to read in every room of our house, but finishing a book is a monumental achievement. With MB at work, I'm in charge of keeping the household running and home schooling BB and GL. Reading can only be done in short snatches. Even reference books rarely stay in the same place for long. Books are his favorite thing to collect, and the first thing he does when he picks one up is remove all bookmarks. I'm a faster than average reader, but it took me four months to finish a biography of Orville and Wilbur Wright because whenever I picked it up, I had barely enough time to find my place before I had to put it down again.

This afternoon I got out some books to prepare lessons. They weren't textbooks, so I had to search for and mark the parts I wanted to use. I had just marked the places and set the books on the table. I got up to get a pen, and GL swooped in, swiped my books, and removed all my bookmarks. "Don't pull out my bookmarks!" I said. "I'm sorry!" he replied, looking as puzzled and amazed as if I'd said, "Would you mind not eating this week?"

Serious readers will understand my dilemma. Forgiving him for pulling out my bookmark once, or seven times, or seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven, would be easier than facing the possibility that I may never, for the rest of my natural life, be able to mark my place in a book and return to it. Assuming I can even find the book. On the other hand, we are only forgiven our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. He was truly sorry and had humbly repented, but at this point, amendment of life seems extremely unlikely.

"Don't pull out other people's bookmarks!" I told him, "That's a rule!" To him, if something is a rule, that's as serious as it gets. I struggled for a moment, but I really had no choice. I had to forgive him, whether he stopped taking my books and removing my bookmarks or not, and he would probably go on taking my books and removing my bookmarks, whether I forgave him or not.

Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.


Blogger Babs said...

What a wonderful little sermon! God bless you and GL.

May 16, 2009 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger At A Hen's Pace said...

Wow, who would ever imagine that bookmarks could be the source of so much trial? It would be for me too! But you know what the good book says about trials and tribulations bringing about character and whatnot. As a friend used to say: "It's all grist for the mill."



May 25, 2009 at 10:45 PM  

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