She cannot have a slice of her Daddy’s birthday cake, even though we labored with on the kitchen floor, mixer and whipped cream between us. She will not get to taste the chiffon cake – the fruits of our labors.
She doesn’t have a wheat allergy or sensitivity to eggs: this is Day 3 of her sugar-free consequence.
You see, we recently discovered that our five-year-old daughter has been squirreling away candy, sneaking sweets into her bed. The clever little thing has been taking her time,waiting for the moments in which no adult was present, mouth watering like a wolf to steal sweets from our drawer, and travel up the stairs to her room like an assailant. Basically, my daughter has become a sugar thief.
In the end, it was the wrappers that gave her away.
It is bedtime and my husband spied a shiny piece of something on the floor. Running his hand between the bunkbed and the wall, first one wrapper appeared, then two more. Gummy wrappers, gum, the trash from a jelly stick. My face felt red for her, a kind of sympathy-shame. Hot and clammy, my heart beating, looking from my husband to our little sugar viper.
She looked down at the growing pile, chin wobbly, eyes dilated and instantly puffy. “It’s candy! Sorry, Mommy, Sorry, Daddy! I know—I’m sorry!”
My husband and I were supernaturally cool. Perhaps it’s because I secretly like my own story of being five and unwrapping every Starburst candy and building molecular structures with toothpicks, a cool half-hour before trick-or-treaters knocked on the door. Perhaps I empathize with children who sometimes make bad choices because I was that kid for a long time. Whatever the reason – I feel sympathy. To have to hide something is hard work. To be found out, wrappers uncovered, is the worst part. It is a little death. It is the word “disappointment” and “we’re concerned.”
“Honey, this is not okay.” We don’t scream; we’re oddly in control of our emotions. It is a dance of strong but loving words from us. We’ll help her learn. This is part of her growing up. This is her Starburst story on Halloween. A time she will remember choosing honesty over scrounging secretly like a reprobate mouse.
We ask her to count the wreckage. Through her “I’m sorry!” wails, we count twenty-five. This now explains the five or so wrappers I’d discovered near the couch and in drawers. We add that to the sum for an even thirty. Thirty times she sneakily swiped candy–that we know of– in early mornings, a jelly bean here, a mini-chocolate bar there.
Our child is learning that nothing stays hidden for long: secrets come out and the lights come on.
As our sniffling girl excuses herself to to bathroom, my husband and I lean over the wrappers, still amazed. “Honey. She’s got to learn this now. Imagine if she can learn this now at five? If she can take this experience and really use it to help her character grow?” I’m talking fast now. Let this not be a waste.
I was the high schooler who stole a final exam and gave it to Solange in another class. I was the girl who lied and missed curfew any chance I got. By seventeen, I got used to being the wild girl. May our daughter get her value now. May she be dorkily-psyched at the value of waiting for the right things. May she eat her candy in the light, not squirreling it away like a deviant who lies to us.
To be able to stand up straight with clear eyes, not hunched over in fear or shame—this is what I want for my girl as she grows. I don’t want her to feel badly about herself, nor do I want her to be deceived that only her needs matter.
Our girl’s ongoing decisions to pilfer candy, throwing down wrappers and praying we wouldn’t find them, has a cost. It has kept her now from two family desserts, one being her daddy’s birthday cake, and we are just three days into thirty.
Even in punishment, she will continue to know our love and the forgiveness that brings her back into our arms. Trust can be lost for a while, and still be restored.
I want her to reach for the things that more deeply satisfy—the things that do not need to be stuffed down against a wall or under the floorboards.
Candy will be waiting for her at the end of the month. She will have undergone change, her tastebuds no longer needing to help themselves to jellybeans in the dark. She will eat, surrounded by laughter, boundaries clear as day, and teeth ready to be brushed.