RU the Penitent

RU took something that didn’t belong to her last week.

The Wife had dropped the girls off at a play-care place we frequent and I picked them up after I got off work. There’s a low wall that separates booking the place where you drop kids off at from the big, open play room. Frequently, if there’s an item the kids need to take with them — an art project they made or a sweater they took off during the day — the workers will just lay it on that wall so you’ll see it when you’re retrieving your progeny. On that wall, when I arrived to pick up RU and MeToo, was a grey stuffed bunny.

Now, RU has just such a bunny at home. Other than MeToo’s bunny, which is the same model in pink, I’ve never seen one like it. Oh, I’m not saying it’s rare or unique, just uncommon enough that I’ve never come across one whenever I’ve encountered stuffed animals out in the wild. I immediately assumed it was RU’s own Cottontail, and was mildly surprised that the Wife had let her bring it here.

Which is why I didn’t think anything was amiss when RU grabbed it as we were leaving.

She just put her shoes on and took it down, cool as you please. Maybe I did ask her if it was hers, or maybe while we were headed out the door I said something like, “Make sure you still have your bunny.” I’m sure I said something, but I no longer recall whether it was a direct question or something that actually reinforced the idea that she could take it. In any case, I freely admit that I could have halted my daughter’s descent into a life of crime right there, if only I’d been a bit more vigilant. Of course the Wife wouldn’t have let her take a toy to play care. Of course I shouldn’t just assume that no one else would have a bunny exactly like RU’s. After all, you know what happens when you assume something: you make a petty criminal out of your preschooler.

We didn’t discover that RU had committed Grand Theft Rabbit until she mentioned it herself that night. She had brought it upstairs with her and wanted to sleep with it, which I allowed (contrary to my normal “no toys in the bed, now lie down and go night-nights” policy). Once she’d snuggled up with it, RU said she was a little upset that she didn’t know where her bunny was.

“What do you mean? You have your bunny right there”

“No, I mean my bunny. I think it’s downstairs but I don’t know where.”

This turned into an Abbot and Costello routine for a few minutes before it finally got through to me what she meant. This bunny wasn’t her bunny. The Wife and I then spent several minutes trying to convince RU that she has Capgras syndrome until it came out that, no, RU didn’t take her stuffed bunny to play care. So the Wife went downstairs to find Cottontail, still convinced there was only one grey bunny in the house.

She came back with RU’s rabbit in her hand and a stern look on her face.

When asked if she had known that the bunny wasn’t hers when she took it, RU nodded. The closest thing to an explanation she could give was that she took it because she didn’t know whose it was. Well, that’s a 4-year-old’s logic for you.

This is not a problem we’ve had with RU before. MeToo, yes, but not RU. When MeToo was a little younger, she tended to grab things and, being low to the ground, was often able to carry her prize around for quite a while before an adult noticed. You might just write this off as a toddler’s tendency to reach for things, but there was a definite air of pilferage about it. And once at a restaurant she knocked something off the table and while I bent down to get it — I swear — she stuffed some silverware into her sweater.

I will pause here and say that having kids this young has helped me to recall some of my own very distant memories from previously unreachable sections of my memory bank. I can remember being about RU’s age and being confronted by an adult about something that I hadn’t done, or perhaps they had greatly misunderstood what had happened. Adults were the supreme authority figures, and if they had the facts wrong I often couldn’t find the words to straighten them out. I just went along with their version of things because my preschool-aged brain couldn’t fathom that a grown-up could be so far out of tune with reality. One time, in particular, I recall poking a kid with my finger when he wasn’t looking and I somehow got accused of biting him. When asked why I’d done it, the only thing I could think to say was, “My little brother bites me a lot.” Which wasn’t an admission of guilt, mind you, but I didn’t exactly stand up for myself, either.

What I suppose I’m trying to say is that I understand how it’s possible for RU to have taken the bunny without meaning to steal it, even while knowing that it wasn’t hers. She may have said, “I took it because I didn’t know who it belonged to” because it’s beyond her to say, “I saw a bunny that looked exactly like mine I got a little confused and took it. I knew I hadn’t brought my bunny to play-care and I knew my bunny had no reason to be there, but I’m only four years old and stuff happens around me all the time that I don’t understand and don’t pay attention to. So it wouldn’t be that weird, from my perspective, if my Cottontail were to show up at play-care without my knowledge. To me, it was bizarre that the exact same carseats which had been in the van when Mom dropped me off were now in the car that Dad picked us up in — but you got annoyed when I kept questioning that.

Or… maybe she just wanted to take it. Who knows?

So here’s how we’ve dealt with it. First, RU had to explain to the bunny what has happened. We pointed out to her that the bunny she took doesn’t know where it is and is surely missing its owner. It was probably frightened and confused. You’d better believe that pushed all of RU’s buttons. Sobbing, RU apologized to the stuffed animal she had rabbitnapped and promised it that she was going to set things right.

The next day, she had to write a letter of apology to the child whose bunny she had stolen. When I asked her what she thought she ought to say, RU replied, “I took your bunny but it didn’t belong to me. I’m sorry.” Which was almost word-for-word what the Wife had already typed up, so RU copied that out letter by letter. She’s been appropriately contrite and I believe the lesson has been learned.

Of course, it’s been a week and we adults have yet to actually go back out to the play-care place to return the thing…