Over a casual conversation with our son’s teacher we found out he had been charging ice cream at school. No biggie right? All kids do a little charging every now and then.
Yeah, well, every now and then had turned into a daily indulgence of Mississippi Mud Bars at a $1.90 a pop. I discovered this one day by off handedly emailing his teacher and informing her we would be sending more healthy snacks in efforts to regulate our son’s weight. The Doctor said he was getting to a borderline weight for his age/height that could lead to diabetes. In a helpful response his teacher replied, “You might want to start with cutting out the Mississippi Mud bar he has every day at lunch.It has a lot of calories in it.”
I was like, “The what?! and how often?!”
I had never heard of the Mississippi Mud bar. So I asked a few more questions and then went and talked to the lunchroom lady and we sat down and looked at all the charge sheets for the last few months. This is good ole’ fashion honor system. You write your name down and the cost of the ice cream you just picked out and you pay it off sometime during the school year. Or you think your parents will just pay it off sometime somehow someway. Hanukah Matata!
Mitchell’s handwriting is very distinct. He writes a beautiful cursive. Even crossword puzzles are in cursive. Go figure. So we easily picked out his writing on each day’s charge sheet. And there it was over and over. His name in perfect cursive with $1.90 by it.
Lunchroom lady is tapping away on the calculator and I’m feeling the steam building up with each $1.90 entry. The white ticker tape is getting longer and longer. Finally she rips off the receipt and there it was. His $40.90 ice cream bill. Emphasis on his.
We were about to enter one of those lessons you just never ever forget. We all have them. One of mine (yes, ha ha, “one” of many) was when I stole a piece of bubble gum out of a large plastic bag of bubble gum at the grocery store. I was four or five. My Mom made me tell the owner of the store and I was humiliated. But I learned that day that stealing was wrong.
In this case Mitchell, and Randy and I went through a hellacious afternoon of discussions. The situation was complicated by the fact that just the day before the charges came to the surface Mitchell had purchased, with his own money that he had been saving, a MineCraft Creeper figurine. It cost $25.00. And he was so excited about it and had already showed several friends. Had we known he had a $40.90 charge we would have never let him purchase that toy.
Mitchell had no clue what his ice cream bill was. He had just been charging daily with no real awareness that it was adding up. We pointed out that every time he signed his name with an amount next to it he was making a promise to his school that he would pay it back. We had also previously talked about not charging so this was not a gray issue at all. He wasn’t allowed to charge and he did repeatedly. He said he forgot that he wasn’t supposed to charge but we explained there were natural consequences for “forgetting”.
Randy and I talked on the phone and we both felt the $25.00 Creeper needed to be returned and the money applied to the ice cream bill.
To say this didn’t go over well is an understatement. Our son negotiated, he cried, he guilt tripped us, he tried everything he could to get this worked out where he could keep the creeper and still pay off the debt. But he didn’t have enough money. All he had was the $25.00. He told his father while being very upset, “Why can’t you just pay the bill for me? You’re the man of the house.” Randy said, “And you will be one day. You must learn now to pay your debts and understand the value of money so you can be a strong leader in your own home one day.” Randy was really good. I was crumbling inside and felt horrible. I would sort of sabotage the whole thing by saying something like, “There are thousands of those creepers. You’ll be able to get once once you get the ice cream paid off.” Randy would say, “Maybe there will be some left by the time you get it paid back.” He was giving me the evil and I was giving it back to him. I was like, “He needs to know there is hope and grace in this mess.” Randy said, “Yes, but that will come later. He needs to feel the weight of it right now.” So we both grappled through this hard lesson ourselves. It was not easy.
The next day we picked up our son from school and drove 30 minutes to the closest Target for him to make the return. We went as a family and in the parking lot he hands the creeper toy to me and says, “Here, I can’t stand the travesty of it. You carry it.” Have I mentioned there’s drama in our family? Yeah, there is. Randy put it back in our sons’ hands and said, “No, you’ve got to follow this through to the end like a man.” And he did. He did it with a good attitude although it was extremely hard.
On the way to school the next day our son said to me, “Mom, I wish I had never charged all that ice cream.” He was not angry and he had come full circle in his understanding of what he would do differently next time. I said, “Mitchell, you get it now. I have no doubt in my mind that you have learned your lesson. And you will be a stronger person because of it.”
Do you remember how God made Adam and Eve clothes out of fig leaves after they had sinned? He told them their punishment for choosing to disobey and then he gave them grace by helping meet their needs even though they were the ones who got themselves in the place they were in – which happened to be nekked as a blue jay and totally aware of it. He graciously and lovingly made them clothes. Favor. Grace. He didn’t have to do that. They were wrong. He held to the boundaries he had placed but he never withheld his love and on top of that he gave tender grace.
Well, I feel like that’s what God did for our son. We prayed that God would provide a way for Mitchell to earn or receive the extra money that was needed for his ice cream bill and even for extra money so he could save up for a new toy and you know what – God did that for him. It took him about two weeks to come up with the rest of the money which was a total favor of the Lord. An amount came in the mail that he was not expecting and then he found some money he had put in a lego box. He applied it to the ice cream bill and paid it in full with cash with his own hands. And it felt good to get that debt paid off. He even has money left over and is close to being able to get the creeper. God is good.
And although it was one of the most painful experiences in parenting and in childhood it was worth it because I promise you he will look at charging money completely differently now. And he also sees how God provided for him in unusual and unexpected ways. And I pray he knows his Mom and Dad never stopped loving him one ounce through this entire thing.
Oh may we live in awe of God’s love and grace.