Something happened to me the other day that made me wonder if I could become the subject of a fly-on-the wall documentary called My Toddler is a Kleptomaniac.
The Raging Bull, nearly four, has been many things in her short life – but up until recently she had not been a thief. A terror, almost daily; a Disney princess, sometimes; but a daylight robber, no. This all changed one ordinary weekday afternoon.
It was a fraught supermarket outing like any other. I was frazzled, the kids were acting up, and I was trying to think about what I needed for dinner. For some reason my memory freezes when I see aisles of food; I can never remember what I’m in there to buy, and I never write it down unless I’m actually having people over. After dashing around for about 20 minutes I drag all my food on the bus, one of the peculiar joys of London living.
I’m in the kitchen when I first spot the Raging Bull smiling at me slyly and holding what appears to be a new toy. On closer inspection it’s a beanie dog named Cookie. It’s a cute little thing with floppy ears and big, round eyes that seem to be accusing me of something, like being a bad parent.
‘Where did you get that?’ I ask incredulously, fearing the worst, but hoping for some reasonable explanation.
The Bull is beaming at me when her older sister blurts out, ‘She stole it from the supermarket!’
I am surprised, not surprised. After a short inquisition, I find out that my three-year-old took Cookie and hid him behind her back. Oh yes, she knew this was wrong but she was as brazen as a drug smuggler at an airport, calmly transporting a haul of cocaine in his hand luggage.
My youngest child also has the perfect cover for a thief because she looks like an angel. There will be no one looking for a four-year-old shoplifter, including me.
My method of punishment occurs to me suddenly. I decide to bluff about calling the police. I look down at the Raging Bull and muster my serious, outraged expression. ‘I think I might have to call the police,’ I say. ‘That’s what happens with people who steal.’
Little did I know what kind of hysteria this would set off. My child’s triumph quickly turns to tears. She is beside herself with dismay and now seriously worried that she might end up in jail.
I wonder how long I can keep this going before it becomes some kind of child cruelty. What surprises me most is that the Chatterbox, now nearly 7, also gets worried. I didn’t think she’d buy the bluffing, but she is totally convinced I’m going to turn her little sister over to the cops.
‘Mummy,’ she says very soberly, ‘you can’t tell the police. She can’t go to jail because she’s too little.’ Her eyes convey her concern.
I start to crumble, losing the will to keep the act going for much longer. But before I give in and tell them that there will be no screeching police cars showing up at the house, the Chatterbox has scraped together £14. It’s all her tooth fairy money and whatever she has saved.
‘I’ll buy the doggie for her,’ the Chatterbox says. ‘That way we don’t have to call the police.’
This generosity and kindness nearly melts my heart. I tell the girls that we’ll visit the supermarket and explain to them about the dog tomorrow, which is probably the tactic I should have taken in the first place.
That evening I notice all these little plastic balls all over the floor. They’re in the kids’ room, in the kitchen and in the dining room. I can’t figure out where they are coming from until I realize that Cookie has a massive hole under his tail and it’s leaking.
There is only one word for it, karma. But the question is this: Is it karma for what I’ve done or for what my child has?