I was in my early thirties, I was spiralling into a life of crime, and it was all my children’s fault.
Before I became a mother, I was a very moral person. I never stole, I never lied (okay, I did lie, but only when I had to), and I never, ever cheated (except for that one time in Year 8 Maths, but the teacher had left the room, it would have been silly not to).
Since I’ve had kids, though, I’ve been shocked at my descent into delinquency. It started about nine years ago. I had a trolley full of food, and I was wheeling my baby through the fruit department in his pram. He grabbed a handful of grapes and I pulled them away. He started to wail and I gave the grapes back. He ate the grapes and there was instant peace. Who on earth says that crime doesn’t pay?
From then on, when shopping with my son, I became a regular grape-pincher. I thought that I could stop at that. I thought that I was in control. But then one day my toddler grabbed some fruit pastilles off the shelf and devoured them before we got to the checkout. I was going to pay for them – honest! – but he’d chewed the wrapper and the bar code was all mangled and soggy, and I just couldn’t be bothered going back for another.
Stolen fruit pastilles. That’s bad, right? Well, unfortunately, it got worse. Eventually my son went to day care, only to be replaced in the trolley by my cherubic baby daughter. And my daughter, I discovered, was rather a dab hand at shoplifting. There I’d be at the checkout, presenting my bread, milk and groceries, and I’d find a packet of Smarties at the bottom of the trolley which I definitely didn’t put there myself. Of course, I’d put them back and scold her, but after a few rounds of ‘Try to trick Mummy into thinking she chose the Freddos herself’, my daughter began to refine her technique.
Instead of finding the chockies in the trolley, I began discovering the stash at home - in my handbag, in a shopping bag, even wrapped in my daughter’s blanky. Now, I know I didn’t steal them myself, and I know that the store shouldn’t put this stuff at littlies height, but when I found myself feeling chuffed after a particularly big hoist (I discovered a Bugs Bunny plate with a matching spoon and cup in the bottom of my daughter’s pram), I knew that I was headed for sin.
Which brings me to my final transgression – the crime that ended my shameful spree. It happened at an indoor play centre, which I visited with my son, who was five, and my daughter, who had just turned three. Approaching the counter, I noticed that there were two separate prices, four dollars for kids aged two and under, and eight dollars for ages three and up. I thought for a moment, considered the four dollar price difference, and then said to the lady, “She’s two, and he’s five”.
“She’s not two, Mum!” yelled my son. “She’s three! She’s THREE!!!”
“She’s two and three quarters,” I told him, my face burning beetroot red. The lady looked at my son, looked at me, and smiled serenely.
“Twelve dollars”, she said, and ushered us through. She knew what was going on, I knew that she knew, and I felt like an utter disgrace.
All the way up the stairs my son gleefully chanted “Hah! You’re only two!”, and my daughter looked very confused. After ten minutes of trying to explain the situation to my son (who was too busy chanting, and wasn’t really listening), I was consumed with guilt. I knew that I’d come to a turning point in my career, as both a mother, and as a criminal. Nicking grapes was one thing, but lying in front of my children was another. It was time to face the music, or, to be more accurate, the serene lady behind the counter.
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “I lied. My daughter really is three. I wanted to save some money, but I feel very guilty. Could I pay the extra money please?”
“Four dollars,” she said, and smiled again. And I smiled too, because I knew that the same kids who had led me into crime had just led me out again. Oh, and because my son had finally stopped chanting. What a relief.