Yesterday I made tapioca pudding. From scratch, of course; I've never understood the appeal of using a box to save five minutes and lose 75% of the flavor. (Early on in my forays into cost savings I looked at the price of snacks and decided that if I wasn't willing to bake goodies, we didn't need to eat them. Yes, there have been occasions when I've bought cookies, but it's not a regular occurrence.)
So I soaked the tapioca in sweet milk, and went off to do other things. Eventually I remembered to come back and simmer the concoction; I mixed up eggs and let the mixture thicken on the stove, then added vanilla. Half an hour of cooling, then transfer to ramekins. Oh, yum! I covered the ramekins with wrap and put them in the fridge.
After an early supper I took Little Guy to Cub Scouts. My tummy was rumbly on the way home, and I thought happily of the treat awaiting us. When we arrived, Little Guy looked in the fridge and said, "But there's none left! There's only one that's half eaten." I rummaged around and located a ramekin that had been pushed toward the back of the shelf. Then I counted the empty containers on the counter: one, two, three, four... Indeed, the only tapioca pudding left was the one that was half eaten. Someone had taken more than his or her share. Although I was the one who had taken the time to make the pudding, I wasn't going to get to eat any.
The feelings that go through a mom's head at moments like this -- and I assume others have moments like this -- are mixed. There is sadness that one of your own children could be so self-centered. There is a woundedness, too, from having done something generous and getting a punch in the gut in return. There is anger. There is bewilderment. There is disappointment. How can this be?
To eat someone else's share when you've already had an ample portion is just wrong. My kids know this. I know they do. I have taught them, by word and example, to be thoughtful of others. And yet there was half a portion of tapioca pudding instead of a whole one.
No one confessed, of course.
I considered my options. It was a blessing that I was more sad than angry, because often when I'm angry I rant, and that rarely helps anything or anyone. Feeling sad helped me see that the issue wasn't getting the perpetrator know that what he or she had done was wrong. The child knew that, even while savoring my dessert. The issue -- or at least the one I could do something about while my pudding was being digested in someone else's belly -- was honesty. So I gathered the kids who'd been home while I was gone, and said, "What makes me most unhappy is that someone's not telling the truth. I am not going to yell at you. You know I value honesty. I just want to know who ate the pudding."
There was awkward silence. Then one of the children said, "I ate a little bit off the top."
I nodded, ignoring the disparity between "a little bit" and how much was missing.
I thanked the child for admitting the wrongdoing.
I did not impose a consequence, because frankly I am not able to think of something appropriate in the midst of strong emotion, and at that moment I had enough work to do keeping my other feelings at bay.
This morning I decided the fitting response is to require the perpetrator make dessert for the family next week, at his/her personal expense.
And I'm reminded, once again, that the reason to be a good parent is because that's what you are called to be. You can hope to get other things -- like honest and hardworking kids, or the good opinion of others, or gratitude -- out of it. But there are times when what you will get for your effort is a half-ramekin of crusted-over tapioca pudding, and a headache.
That doesn't mean it was a mistake to make the dessert. It just means that I am not, and never will be, the person making the decisions in my child's head.