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Finders and Keepers, Losers and Weepers

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My children have yet to learn the value of money. They get a dollar every so often for chores or from the Tooth Fairy, but I usually find it a week later, wadded up on the bedroom floor. So, when the true owner of a ten dollar bill came into question, I looked at it as an opportunity to teach my kids a lesson. In the end, we all got a little more than we bargained for.

Mini Me, my seven-year-old daughter, ran downstairs excited about something. She handed me a dictionary and said, “Look inside.”

What I found was a ten dollar bill. She asked if she could keep it. I told her that it’s probably someone’s birthday money that they stashed and forgot about, but if nobody claimed it, she could have it.

I called my ten-year-old twin boys down and showed them the dictionary. I said that if they could tell me what was inside the dictionary and why, they could have it. Boy No. 1 said,

“A lot of words and definitions.”

“Yes, that is true, but not exactly what I was looking for.”

It quickly became apparent that they had no clue. My questioning jogged no memory of using the dictionary as a piggy bank.

When I told the boys the contents of the dictionary and the amount, suddenly the memories of putting the money in there came flooding back. At that point I could not judge who the real owner of the money was and why they put it there.

I invoked the Finders Keepers Rule and gave the ten dollar bill to Mini Me.

The groans of dispair turned into fits of yelling about how unfair I was. That’s when Secret Agent Man, my husband, came out of his secret lair office to remind them, Boy No. 2 in particular, that yelling at mom is never acceptable. I got a forced apology. I accepted it nonetheless.

The next day Boy No. 1 brought me the ten dollar bill and said that Mini Me had left it on their computer desk. The Finders Keepers Rule turned in his favor and he became the new owner of the ten dollar bill.

To her 7-year-old credit there was no whining, wailing or gnashing of teeth. She knew she should have put the money away.

Now, my goal here wasn’t to teach my kids that whatever they find is theirs, it was to teach them to respect and safeguard their money. I have told these kids on several occasions that when they get money they need to put it in a safe place, like a piggy bank or a wallet. But, do you think they listen to me? They didn’t care about misplacing a dollar here and there, but this ten dollar bill was turning into a big deal.

Later that night, we went to the mall. While I shopped at one store, the boys went ahead to Target to peruse the toy section. By the time I got there, they hadn’t made up their minds on what they wanted and tried to negotiate for more money. I said “no” and told them we needed to get going. Boy No. 2 in great desperation, pleaded with his brother,

“Just grab something! Anything!”

They wanted to drop that ten dollar bill like it was hot. They didn’t care what they spent it on, just as long as they got to spend it.

When I told them that I was not going to give them any more money and that we need to leave, Boy No. 2 not having learned his lesson about yelling at the woman who carried him inside of her body for nine months, yelled at me again! In Target!

So not to call anymore attention to ourselves, he got the “mad mom whisper.” You know the one. It is quiet, but effective and demands instant compliance.

“This trip is over,” I drew my face closer to his, “you are not getting anything. You are not going to say another word. We are going to walk out of this mall with what is left of our dignity.”

You can imagine the tongue lashing he received all the way home.

Mini Me was upset with me, too. She had her eye on a new Littlest Pet Shop toy that I refused to buy her.

Later that night, (it was a long night) I saw Mini Me packing her bags. When I asked her if she was planning on running away, she told me she was just “arranging” her purses. It was suspect, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.

The next morning, the boys were looking for their money, again. It seems that they had left it on the coffee table the night before.

Apparently, Mini Me, always a quick study, learned the “Finders Keepers” lesson. She picked up the money and put it in the safest place she knew, her Hello Kitty wallet inside of her giraffe print purse.

The boys accepted their defeat. There was no arguing the point. Their little sister took advantage of the situation and profited.

Later that day, Boy No. 2 came home “sick” from school. While he had the house to himself, he went into his sister’s room, found the purse, opened the wallet and took the money. He then hid it inside the speakers of his stereo.

When the other kids came home later, he pretended to find it, handed it to his brother and told him to come tell me what they had found.

Knowing that my daughter was not foolish enough to leave the money unattended again, I immediately knew that something was fishy. Upon cross-examination both boys denied taking the money out of their sister’s wallet.

Boy No. 2 was not immediately forthcoming and to Boy No. 1’s credit he did not rat out his twin brother, but Secret Agent Man, known by his associates as “The Human Lie Detector,” procured a rapid, yet unremorseful confession. Boy No. 2 admitted to his crimes, but felt fully justified believing that this money was his to begin with.

I needed to take a break to have some time to think about how I was going to deal with the sneaking, the lying, and the stealing. This whole “Finder’s Keepers” debacle ended up opening a whole can of character flaws, that I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with.

I let the boy stew in anticipation of punishment for over an hour. Finally, I announced to him that he and I needed some time alone to talk about his behavior. I told him to wait for me in the car while I got my purse and keys and the two of us were going to go to McDonald’s for some ice cream and talk.

He sat in the car for about five minutes (Secret Agent Man said it was longer) before he came back in to find me sitting at my desk and said,

“Mom, I thought we were going to McDonald’s?”

I looked up from my computer screen and said flatly, “I lied.”

I’m not exactly sure what the tears were about, the disappointment, the realization of having been lied to, or both, but, whatever they were for, it was the effect I was going for. I said,

“Feels pretty crummy to be lied to, doesn’t it?”

This whole “finders keepers” business has been interesting to see the revealing of our kid’s moral compass. This probably won’t be the last time they are going to lie to us, or be sneaky, or perhaps even steal. Since character development is an ongoing process, the lectures and lessons will certainly continue.

What are some of the moral issues and life lessons you have worked on with your kids? What have been your successes or miserable failures?

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  • comment avatar Char December 3, 2008

    This is an excellent post! And it’s my first time here and I am enjoying it. I am happy to know and remember that I am not the only parent dealing with the character development thing. UGH…

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson December 3, 2008

    I know I shouldn’t laugh at this but I did, primarily because I can see this happening at my house. Talk about a comedy act and those kids of yours? You saw character flaws, I saw funny little characters! So glad you and Secret Agent Man were there to whip them back into shape. 🙂

  • comment avatar Lori December 3, 2008

    There’s so much in this post I relate to. The value of money, the innate ability to learn and play the system (in this case, Finders Keepers), and finding one’s moral compass inside all that.

    And, of course, those undignified moments at Target.

    What I would give to have (or be) a Human Lie Detector.

  • comment avatar Kagey December 3, 2008

    I don’t if I would have the chutzpah to lie to my kid on purpose, even to teach a lesson. But I’ll keep that one in mind if fibbing becomes an issue. We’re still at the stage when my 3 yr old DD comes running to me to tell me she hit her brother on purpose, and that she needs a time out.
    But how great is it that you managed to roll with the punches and teach the lesson that presented itself, even if not the one you were going for! The mark of a good Mama, for sure!

  • comment avatar Catherine December 4, 2008

    This was a great post, Annie. You seem so fast on your feet. I’m trying to figure out how to best deal with a child going through a SNEAKY phase. (this is me hoping with everything in her that this IS, in fact, a phase). But my parenting is so painfully analytical and diagnostic that my kid will be going to college before I come up with a really good solution.

    Attempting to raise decent human beings…. I feel so stupid for complaining about that colic problem!!

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