A few weeks ago I took some florist stones that I had kicking around and threw them in the bag of sand toys. These things:
Little Miss Sunshine just loves them. She calls them her “jewels” and she uses them to decorate her sandcastles, or to sort into piles, or to make roads, or to bury in the sand and then “find” using her sifter.
The interesting thing about the jewels is that they are kind of unusual and pretty and so they draw a big crowd at the park. As soon as the Little Miss opens the little tupperware of jewels, we’re swarmed by every other kid in the park. They all want to touch them and hold them to the light. It’s led to some sharing issues for the Little Miss, but we’re working on that.
Almost every kid who comes to see the jewels tries to steal one (or a whole handful, if they are especially bold). I don’t have much of an issue with this. Usually I’m all irate about unsupervised hooligans at the park, but quite frankly, if I were a four or five year old and I came across a pile of jewels, I know I’d try to take one, too. The really young kids probably don’t see any difference between the Little Miss’ jewels and any other rock, pinecone, or stick they’d find in the sand and get to take home. And the older ones…well, I’ve been there.
When I was nine or ten, my grandfather was working at a charity fundraiser that involved some carnival games. He was at the roulette table (you’d win stuffed animals, it wasn’t like Casablanca or anything) and I’d already lost almost all of my money. I was down to my last quarter and I didn’t want to go home empty handed. I put my quarter on number 25, but I put it at the very edge of the table and covered it with my hand. I thought I was so smart — if 25 came up, I’d reveal my quarter and win, but if not, I’d pull it back and pretend I’d never had it on in the first place.
I am a CRIMINAL MASTERMIND.
So what happens, but number 25 miraculously comes up. And I was all, like, “I won! I won!” My grandfather gave me the most skeptical look and asked me point blank if I’d really had my quarter there. And I sheepishly said yes, because it actually was there, even though it kind of wasn’t. You could see my grandfather kind of going back and forth on the issue but in the end he decided to take my word for it (or at least, avoid a scene) and he gave me a stuffed Mrs. Pac Man.
Let me tell you, I was never able to even look at that Mrs. Pac Man without feeling horrible, like I’d stolen it. I used to keep it in my closet and when the time came for me to get rid of a few stuffed animals it was the first thing out the door. And then, I felt even MORE guilty because I’d conned my grandfather out of the Mrs. Pac Man, then hadn’t even KEPT it. The whole thing was a terrible mess and I never took anything that wasn’t rightfully mine again.
So when I see a kid slipping a jewel into their pocket, or burying it off to the side for later finding, I try to just let it go. A whole handful goes missing, I might gently remind them that the jewels belong to the Little Miss; otherwise, we can afford some attrition and I get it.
Plus, they’ll probably always feel guilty when they look at that jewel on their dresser. A lifetime of guilt is worth much more than a reaming out from a stranger at the park, don’t you think?