Teaching Children Values
Learning how to treat others.
Who doesn’t want to find buried treasure? I know I always wanted to find the loot. Tristan was not an exception. Every week we went to the library and studied something new. Tristan picked the topics, one week it was sea creatures, one week it was dinosaurs. You get the idea. Shortly after an episode of Dora the Explorer Tristan got the idea to study buried treasure. In fact if I remember right that year he had a pirate birthday. That entire week he was digging small holes with a hand shovel. Toward midweek my yard resembled a gofer infestation.
I was doing the dishes when my across the street neighbor knocked on our door. John was retired and it was not unusual for Tristan to wander into John's garage when John was fixing something. Tristan had a natural curiosity. John was both patient and in possession of popsicles. So Tristan had become a helper of sorts. This particular day John looked upset.
“Michelle, I need to speak to Tristan” His face had taken on that stuff old man look.
“What did he do?” This was not an unusual question where Tristan was concerned, trouble had his address.
“I’ll talk to him” John was even more annoyed.
“John I would really like it if you told me” He was not getting away with bypassing me.
“He pulled the chrome valve stem covers off my new truck” John sighed the type of sigh you let out when you sign a speeding ticket. When John said new Truck he meant the shiny new Dodge he just bought three days ago.
“Tristan!” I yelled into the back of the house.
“He came out in his roper boots still wearing his blue’s clues shirt and a jacket that matched one his dad owned.
“Tristan did you take something off of Johns new truck?” At this point you should know that Tristan was king fibber in our house. Not always because he wanted to lie but, sometimes he genuinely blocked out his involvement in certain activities.
“No, Mom” He was looking at me like I had two heads.
“I saw you out by the truck Tristan” John was even more annoyed.
Tristan hung his head a little then said “They were treasure.”
I cringed inside, oh no he didn’t take these shinny objects and bury them.
“Tristan where did you put the treasure” I knew it was coming, there was no way to avoid it.
“I buried it in the yard” At this point part of him knew that he was royally busted but he could not change it so he just waited.
“ Go get them, NOW!” Mothers always add NOW when they are mad. Its right up there with saying all three names.
Tristan headed out the front door and started digging in the front yard, and then he dug some more, and then he dug in another place, and another. It became obvious that he had no idea where they were. I am sure I looked defeated.
“I am so sorry John.” I looked toward Tristan “Tristan come here” He hurried back to where we were standing in the yard, his hands muddy. “Do you know where you put them?”
“I thought I did” Tristan was looking at the ground.
“Tristan, John is your friend and you took things from him” Sometimes I wanted to hide and this was one of those times.
“I’m sorry John” He meant that apology. I knew he did. John didn’t speak.
“Well, when we hurt somebody we have to make up for it. So I want you to go get four trash bags and the rake” I have never been one to let a teaching moment go. It was fall in Oregon and the leaves were everywhere including all over John’s yard. For those of us who are not fond of yard work leaves are a nuisance. John was older and I knew he had paid someone to clean the leaves last year. This year John would be paying in valve stem covers.
“Why mom?” He looked worried.
“You and I are going to clean up the leaves in John’s yard” It was a matter of fact statement not up for discussion. John tried to protest but, I insisted.
Tristan did as he was told and got the bags and the rake. Six year olds are not prone to jovial excitement over yard work, especially when it’s cold outside. At first Tristan was motivated by guilt and he worked hard. As the one hour mark passed he asked me if he could stop raking. We had two bags of leaves and my own hands were freezing. As you might expect I told him we would not be stopping until it was done.
At the three hour mark we had to get more bags, once again Tristan asked if we could stop. At that point I was ready to quit myself. Instead of quitting I got down on one knee and faced Tristan.
“Tristan, John is your friend and you hurt his feelings by taking something from him. He trusted you.” He looked at me sadly. “We are going to finish this for John, and you are never going to take anything from anyone again, ok” He nodded at me and went to the house for more bags.
It took four hours and twenty minutes to clear the leaves from John’s yard. I was exhausted. Tristan was exhausted too. He never stole anything again. He and John continued to take things apart and eat popsicles until we moved the next year. Later that fall a neighbor mentioned that someone had removed the valve stem covers off all the cars in the apartment complex on our street. I knew it was Tristan, he must have taken them off all the cars on that same day. He had done his time though. I knew there was no way we ever going to find the 23 sets of covers he buried in the yard.
Tristan still remembers that day, raking the leaves… and I am glad. Because I think the treasure Tristan found that day was learning how to treat other people.