I had to detach, realize Kurt's stealing was his issue and not mine, and believe that protecting him may mean letting go so he could learn his own lessons. His behavior hadn't gotten any better, and in fact was really becoming alarming. He had tried to steal the iPod at Worie's Place, after the long talk we had about stealing.
Last week, I called the police department and arranged for the youth officer to stop by our home for a visit. When Officer Golden arrived, Kurt came into the living room, with wide eyes and grinning. Policemen are one of Kurt's curiosities. They sat on the green couch on opposite ends, while I sat nearby.
"Do you know what stealing means?" Officer Golden said.
After an uncomfortably long since, Kurt said, "Taking other people's things?"
They went over much of what Paul and I have discussed with him: it's wrong, people won't trust you, and your friends won't want to hang around with you. Plus, the officer emphasized it being illegal.
"Before you take something," the officer said, "will you ask first?"
Another long pause before Kurt shook his head and quietly said, "Yes."
"Good. Let's shake on that," the officer reached out and the two shook hands.
A few days later Kurt came in from the garage. "Mom, come see," he motioned for me to follow. "Look," he pointed at his golf cart.
I immediately noticed the change. He had taken the Wisconsin Badgers license plate off and replaced it with the Luther Chevrolet plate from Paul's workbench. It was the plastic plate on my car when we purchased it.
"Did dad say you could take that?" I said. It's worthless, but the point was he shouldn't take things that don't belong to him. "Come on. Let's go ask dad."
"I'm not in trouble, am I?" He blinked and his eyes went wide. "I didn't like the "W" on the other one."
The Badgers plate had a large red "W" and I was struck by the fact he knew the letter. He doesn't read, so any recognition of the alphabet gives me pause. I don't know what Kurt knows. He reveals some knowledge, at moments like this, in passing. During the years when I tried to teach him the alphabet, he wouldn't have said "W" for a million bucks.
Back to the subject at hand, I was calm. There was no alarm in my voice. There was no feeling that I owned his behavior. I was fully detached. We weren't reacting emotionally.
"Remember? The police officer said to ask first before you take something," I said.
We found Paul in the bedroom. "Go ahead, ask him."
"Can I have the red license for my golf cart?" Kurt said.
Paul shrugged. "I don't care."
"See, you just have to ask first," I said.
I don't know if we've made any progress. Kurt's behavior hadn't changed, he still took something without asking, but my reaction had. Maybe, with a little more calm on my part, we can have these teachable moments. And with some reinforcement, we can get the "ask" before the "take."