You could safely describe my family as bibliophiles. Even the 3yo loves books, and his older brothers and sister annually smash the summer reading goals set by our local library...within a couple of weeks. So it was no surprise to find us all at Half Price Books on Labor Day, taking advantage of their 20% sale.
Only N brought money, so J and M had to settle for just looking. We remembered that J owed N a copy of A Wrinkle in Time, which he had borrowed sometime last year and brought to school only for it to disappear from his backpack. Luckily N found 3 copies and chose one in great condition to replace the lost book. Price: $3.50
At checkout, I turned to J and said, "I'll pay for the book and you can pay me back from your $10 allowance you'll be getting later this week." Commence the whining...
"Noooooo, I'll pay him back lateeeerrrr."
Ignoring him, I finished paying, then took them outside to wait for Daddy and the little one. The I'm-not-done-with-you-yet-Texas heat soon drove us inside again. N went to find the others, so I showed J the receipt.
"Look— $2.78 with the discount. What a deal. You can pay me, say, $3 bucks out of your ten."
J immediately grabbed onto the original price I quoted and said, "No, I'll pay $2.78 like you said."
"No, $3 is easier...no change involved, just dollars. Let's call the difference 'sales tax.' Plus it's still a deal from the original $3.50 price!" I couldn't help but smile even as his frustration level grew, but I quickly masked my amusement as his brow furrowed and started getting upset.
"Mom, it wasn't my fault. I didn't take the book out of my bag. It was there all day because we weren't allowed to get stuff out of our bags during school. Then after school it was just gone when I went to open my bag. It's not fair!"
J is going to be a lawyer someday. Or a politician. Or go to jail. I don't see much difference in the personalities of those three groups ... just the direction and purpose they're given. So we'll keep steering him toward honor and service and see how he changes the world. But in the meantime, he wasn't convincing me.
"J," I leaned in and put my finger on his chin, speaking softly but clearly (as we were still standing near the door of the busy store), "you borrowed the book. I believe you about what happened to it, but you still borrowed it. When we take someone's property and something happens to it —whether accidental or intentional — we are still responsible for it. You took the book and did not bring it home. It's not fair to N that his book didn't come home. So you owe N a new copy. He's not mad. I'm not mad. But you have to make it right."
To his credit, J simply hung his head for a moment —obviously disappointed— then nodded. I ruffled his hair and hugged him before N walked up. Parental moment over.
J is 9 years old. He's a smart kid ... people-smart. He gets relationships, understands the connections between actions and consequences. He may not always realize them beforehand, but when they are explained rationally to him, he gets it. And he has the biggest heart of anyone in our house, always concerned about the needy, the downtrodden, the poor. Maybe it's part of being the middle kid, but he's got a big thing about fairness. What I love is that he doesn't solely focus it on himself. He's just as likely to say "it's not fair!" about a bad call at a football game as he is about kids who don't have shoes because they can't afford them as he is about not getting an equal portion of ice cream as his brother.
I see a heart bent towards justice. And I pray his dad and I can continue to point him toward the God of justice, who spoke through his prophet Micah "... And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8).