I was schlepping Finn through the Costco parking lot when an older woman stopped us and asked for help. She had locked her keys in her car and was wondering if I could fit my arm through the partially open window to unlock her door.
"Of course," I said, walking right up to her car. "No problem at all." But my arm was no smaller than hers so there was really nothing I could do. Well, darn. I thought. What am I supposed to do now? I couldn't exactly leave her standing there with her groceries in her cart and her little dog looking at her expectedly from the front seat. But there was no real point in hanging around either. I offered a handful of dumb suggestions ("Do you have a coat hanger?" "Something sticky?" "A spare key?") until she stopped me and looked at Finn.
"Will you unlock my door for me, honey? I'll give you a dollar."
It was one of those hand to forehead duh moments. Of course he could do it! Who else had small but long arms? Who was being held at the perfect height for optimum window access? If anyone could help save the day, it was Finn!
Only, he didn't want to.
"C'mon, buddy!" I pleaded. "You're the only one who can help! Just reach your arm in there and pull up on the lock. You can do this. It's just the right job for you!"
He shook his head and held his perfectly sized arms close to his body.
"Finny, please!" I said growing embarrassed. "This is the job you were made for. You have to at least try..." I lead his hand up to the opening and helped guide his whole arm into the car. It was literally the perfect fit. But as soon as his hand touched the lock and he could have grabbed it and pulled up, he took his arm out of the car.
"I don't want to," he said, shaking his head.
"Oh, buddy! You were so close. Please just try again. Please?" I lead his hand again and again he stopped right before he could have saved the day. I could tell he was done.
"I'm so sorry," I said to the woman. "But I can't force him to do it." Now I was really stuck. I could help - at least my son could - but it wasn't going to happen. I didn't want to just leave her but staying was growing more awkward by the moment. Luckily she spotted another kid (whose arms were just as big as mine...) and wandered off to ask him for help.
I apologized again and we went into the store. I felt terrible. How could my kid be so unhelpful? I honestly thought this was going to be his morality tale moment. You know, like when the lion thinks he's so great because he's big and strong but when he gets a thorn stuck in his paw and the mouse is the only one who can help, he realizes that sometimes being small is where it's at. I thought he was going to be the little guy who saved the day! Instead he was kind of a jerk.
I know my kids are their own people. That their successes and failures are theirs and not mine. I want them to be themselves and most of the time their choices don't have any affect on me whatsoever. But sometimes I have to draw the line. Being unkind is not okay. And it's not just because it has a negative reflection on me. I don't want to hang out with anyone who isn't kind. That includes my family.
We talked about it a lot. While we picked up the few things we needed, as we stood in line to pay, and all the way back out to the parking lot. I told him I hoped he would change his mind and help her if she was still in the parking lot.
"I'm really sorry, Mama," he said, and I could tell that he meant it.
"Thanks for saying so, bud. But it's not so much about being sorry as it is about doing the right thing next time. We all make mistakes. It's what we do about them that's important."
When we got out to the parking lot, the woman was gone.
"At least we know she got some help," Finn said hopefully.
"That's true," I said. And then because I couldn't help myself I added, "I really wish you would have helped her."
Later that day, we were in the car when I asked the boys if they would go to the YMCA with me so I could go to a dance class with a friend. Liam was on board but Finn immediately said no. I wasn't surprised - he's only gone once and, even though he was there with a friend, he still cried half the time. But as we drove, I started to feel like that poor old lady and her dog.
"So...let me get this straight," I said, turning down the music. "I want to go to a dance class tonight but I can't because you won't help me? Seriously? This feels a lot like what happened earlier..." We told Liam all about it and then I made my case again. "I really want to go to the Y tonight and I need your help. Will you please go with me?"
He was quiet for a bit and then I don't know what happened. Perhaps the planets aligned or we drove through a random patch of magic or he recognized he was getting a second chance to make the right choice. Hard to say. But all of a sudden from the backseat he piped up. "I changed my mind," he said. "Mama? I want you to dance."