I used to be such a badass. Don’t get me wrong, I never cheated on my husband or even smoked a cigarette, but I loved being a rebel without a cause. Turning up late, ignoring rules, wearing tons of eyeliner and rolling my eyes at authority – that kind of thing.
Then everything changed when I had kids.
My bratty habits had to go. Even though their eyes and ears were tiny, I knew that my children were seeing and hearing everything that I did. So, no more blasting Jay-Z (“I want a wife that f***s me like a prostitute”) in the car. It would be sugar-sweet, teen Taylor Swift (“You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess”) all the way now.
Yet every now and then, I’ll accidentally slip back into my bad girl ways, and be forced to ask myself: am I just faking being a “good person”, for the sake of my kids?
These days, the test for being a “good person” is a simple one, found in every neighbourhood. It’s the humble self-checkout at your local supermarket or variety store. And I failed that test in a major way.
Look, I’ve never done that dodgy thing of pressing “brown onion” when I’m really buying expensive avocados. And I’ve never purposely stolen anything from a shop. All the times that I’ve nicked something have been accidents. That’s what happens when a real, human employee isn’t scanning your goods – you have no-one to blame for errors, except for your dumb self.
The first time I accidentally stole something from Kmart was in the early, foggy days of my daughter Emmy’s life. I’d stocked up on baby things, while stressing about whether Emmy was hungry/happy/too cold/too hot/tired in her pram. Once I’d left the store, I noticed some maternity singlets in the bottom of my pram. I’d forgotten to scan them. I was too exhausted and strung out to turn back and pay for them. Emmy was probably due for a breastfeed. I promised myself that I would go back another day to do it.
But when “another day” came, I really, really needed to use one of those maternity singlets. I cut the tags off and put it on, bargaining that I would go back to the shop in the future, grab a maternity singlet from the racks, scan it and pay for it. Then I’d put the singlet back on the racks.
Even thinking about that made me feel tired. Emmy needed to be fed again. I never paid for the singlets.
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Over the years, there have been other items that have gone un-scanned through the self-checkout. A tiny packet of novelty sticky notes that Emmy was clutching. A weird board game about a banana and Scrabble-style letter tiles. I always meant to go back and pay, I really did.
And then one day, I was caught. Not by a security guard or the police, but by my very own Jiminy Cricket: Emmy.
It was in Kmart again, and a car air freshener got lost amongst the many goods I was buying. You know, the cardboard ones in funny shapes that you hang from your rearview mirror? Emmy, who was three at the time, had helped me choose a cupcake one. I think it cost around two dollars or something.
Once we were back at our car, I found the air freshener on top of my pram. (I’ve got to stop putting stuff there!)
“Oh, I forgot to pay for this,” I muttered to myself.
“Mummy, did you STEAL IT?” asked Emmy.
I realised I had to do the right thing, and return to the shop to pay for the item. I had to show Emmy, and my baby son Will, that Mummy was a good person who didn’t steal things.
I don’t post or write about my kids very often, as I believe that their story is their own to tell. Maybe one day they will want to tell it. At the moment, they don’t even know what Facebook is, and I’m happy to keep things that way. I spend the majority of my time nurturing and loving them (and also worrying, stressing, feeling guilty, etc), and I wanted to say today that I love my little arty and curious creatures so much. ❤️️
Another day, of course – the kids were tired and hungry, and we had to get in the car now to beat the traffic.
This time, however, I could not forget that I had to pay for the “stolen” air freshener, because Emmy kept reminding me.
“Remember that thing you stole, Mummy? Are you going to pay for it?” she’d ask, as I rummaged through one of our cupboards.
“You know what would be so good, Mummy? If we had that cupcake thing in our car! Why don’t we use it? Is it because you haven’t paid for it yet?”
I don’t know why, but kids love it when they catch their parents doing something ‘wrong’. Maybe it’s because we are always trying so hard to teach them morals and manners. So when we stuff up, our fall from grace is extra hilarious, and we need to be reminded of it, every second of every day.
And so, bright and early the very next day, I fronted up to Kmart to repent for my shopping sins.
Just kidding! It was several weeks after, when I realised that Emmy was never going to forget about my apparent kleptomania, and that the longer I put off paying for the air freshener, the more likely my kids would become juvenile delinquents.
As soon as I entered the store, I felt like a thief, because I had entered the shop with goods I hadn’t paid for. It was a weird, backwards moment. Maybe security guards should also check people who enter the store? Just a thought.
With my son in the pram and Emmy holding my hand, we walked to the back of the store, where they process the returns. We waited for ages in the line. “It would have been easier if I’d just kept it,” I grumbled to myself. But being a ‘good person’ is not easy or convenient. That’s what this teaching moment was all about.
Finally, we made it to the top of the queue. I lifted Emmy up onto the counter, so that she could watch me right my wrongs.
“Hi, I accidentally took this without paying for it. Can I buy it from you?” I asked the gentleman behind the counter, who I will call Jim, in an overly perky voice.
He paused for a moment, looking at the tiny air freshener in my hand.
I bent my head down to Emmy’s. “Look, Emmy! Mummy is paying for the cupcake thing now.”
Jim scanned the air freshener, and smiled at me. Then he began his Speech of Atonement.
“Thank you for doing this,” he intoned. “Thank you. We wish EVERYONE could be as honest and good as you. THANK YOU, truly.”
I hoped that he was finished, but he kept talking.
“Not everyone comes back to pay for things they’ve taken,” lamented Jim. “We lose so much money that way. Most people keep what they’ve taken. But not you. You’re a GOOD PERSON.” He looked me in the eye and smiled kindly.
And, I’m not joking, a crowd gathered around us. A young colleague of Jim’s stood beside him, and beamed angelically at me. The people behind me in the queue shuffled closer, remarking upon the good mummy who was teaching her kids to be honest people. I wouldn’t have been surprised if confetti had rained from the ceiling, and the Prime Minister appeared from behind a wall of fluffy, on-trend cushions to give me the Australian of the Year trophy.
I felt so ashamed and disgusted with myself. I thought of all the things back home that I was too lazy to return. I knew I wasn’t a ‘good’ person. I was just pretending to be good, for my children.
“I’ve accidentally stolen fifty dollars’ worth of stuff from you guys, over three years! I’m so sorry! I’ll go home and bring them back right now!”
That’s what I SHOULD have said.
Instead, I smiled graciously, and said to Emmy, “See? This is what we do if we have done the wrong thing. We go back and make it right. We pay for things that don’t belong to us.” And I paid my two dollars and left the store, as though I did ‘the right thing’ every day.
As I raise my children, I feel that there is always a choice to make. It is hard to feel confident and justified in my choices. Do I let them watch an hour plus of TV so that I can cook a batch of healthy meals for the next few nights? Or do I play with them and order a takeaway pizza instead? When one of them is sick with a fever and the Nurofen is expired, do I stay home with them and hope the fever goes down? Or do I go to the chemist, knowing that they could throw up in the car or the shop, to get the Nurofen to treat the fever?
And when I find a two dollar item from Kmart in my pram, do I go home so that my kids can nap and eat something, or do I turn around and deal with the hassle of paying for something that’s not mine?
I’d love to say that every day, I am trying my absolute best as a mum. I do want the best for my kids. But truthfully, there are some days when I am lazy and selfish, and I will do the wrong thing. I’m trying to improve, though. My goal is always for my children to grow up to be better people than I am. Healthier, happier – and with better morals. I’m working on it. And I hope that’s good enough.
On our latest episode of This Glorious Mess, Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo talk about the icky new trend ‘fakebooking,’ and speak to an expert what what to do if your child is being bullied, or worse, how to figure out if they are the bully. No one ever said this ”parenting’ thing would be easy…
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