These Boots Weren’t Made for Walking

I glanced at the clock one more time, wondering when DW and The Tortoise would be home from the swim meet. It had been over for some time. Since DW and I had driven separately, I left after The Tortoise finished her heat.  I wanted to get home to make dinner and get The Hare started on her homework.  Diving was last, but the whole swim team stayed to cheer them on. They were winning by a hefty margin too.

About the time I expected them to be walking in the door, the phone rang.

“We had something bad happen tonight,” DW said solemnly, “The Tortoise’s brand new Ugg Boots were stolen.”

“WHAT?!” I exclaimed, “That was her Christmas present! Didn’t she lock them in her locker?”

“Well…” DW continued.

“Please tell me she remembered to lock her locker? Why the hell wouldn’t you lock them in the locker?” I barked, cutting DW off.

A knot was forming in my stomach.

“Honey,” he said quietly, “You’re on speaker.”

My heart sank further. I had reacted rather than responded and my daughter was listening to the whole thing.

“I’m so sorry, Mom” sniffled The Tortoise, trying to hold back the tears.

By the time they got home, I  pulled my emotions together. The Tortoise came slinking in the back door, pulling off her wet, muddy socks. She had no other shoes. We stood there and looked at each other a few minutes, her eyes brimming with tears. I reached out my arms to embrace her, as she fell into them deeply.

“I’m sorry I reacted the way I did,” I whispered in her ear.

“I’m sorry I didn’t remember to bring my lock for the locker,” she cried.

At about 5pm that evening she went to her locker to grab her cell phone and clear out the locker room of all her fellow team mates. She is one of the team captains.  She distinctly remembers seeing her boots in her locker at that time. AT 5:07 she called me to let me know what she wanted for dinner. The other team didn’t stay for diving and had already started packing up and loading their bus. By 5:30 the diving was over, and The Tortoise headed back to the locker room with her team mates. When she opened her locker, her boots were gone.

All of her team mates were stunned. They searched all the lockers, the bathroom stalls, the trash cans and even outside the locker room area. They told their coach. Our coach was amazing and quickly called the opposing team’s coach but only got their voice mail. It was also discovered that a couple of cell phones from other students were missing too. Their swim meet victory was fleeting. As a team, they felt betrayed and empty, even a little heartbroken. The Tortoise was devastated to tell DW what happened and walk through the cold, icy parking lot in her socks.

She should have locked her locker. However, people shouldn’t steal.

The next morning I filed a police report, even though I knew there was less than a slim chance of getting them back. I wanted to show my kids the importance of following through. I also wanted it on record that there was a theft at a school event.

Many tears were shed over the next couple of days. The Tortoise knew she was partially responsible for the missing boots. We agreed to replace them if she paid for half, even though they were her main Christmas present. She didn’t disagree and was willing to give up all the gift money she had. I asked her to wait at least a week, just to see if anything came of the police report.

Amazingly enough, we received a phone call by the end of the week letting us know that the boots had been retrieved. A student from the other team had taken them. The details were unclear as to how they were recovered, but from what I could tell, a girl from the opposing team had turned in one of her team mates to their coach. When the girl who took the boots was questioned, she didn’t deny the incident. She and her parents brought them back. The coach needed me to call him and let him know what I wanted to do about the boots: pick them up or press charges.

Press charges against a middle school student? That seemed extreme. But she did break the law. If there were no consequences, how would they learn the lesson? If there were no consequences, then how would my children learn the lesson? I tossed and turned about this dilemma all night. DW supported pressing charges 100%, besides, what did that really mean in regards to a 13-year-old kid? A fine? Suspension from the swim team? If it had been my daughter, I would have wanted the other parents to press charges and make her accountable.

The next morning I went to the police station with my final decision. I gave the officer all of the updated information and the coach’s contact numbers. They had already reviewed the surveillance tapes and had other information to give me too.

“So – if I press charges, then what?” I asked cautiously.

“Then we handle it all from here, you don’t have to do anything, ” he said, “we’ll let you know when we have your boots.”

I reluctantly left, picturing a very scared little girl waiting at the other school, wondering what kind of trouble she was facing.

Less than an hour later, I received a phone call from the other coach. He gave a brief explanation about how he offered all the kids a “free pass” if they turned in the boots within 24 hours. No questions asked. No consequences. He said the next day, the girl who took them showed up with her parents, voluntarily, and returned my daughter’s boots.

“So, when are you going to pick them up?” he asked.

I was stunned. No questions asked? Voluntarily? Pieces of this story just didn’t fit together – and why offer that kind of deal unless you already suspected that one of your students did indeed steal?

“I won’t be picking them up, ” I replied, “our police department will be contacting you to handle all the details.”

“What?” he said shocked, “So you really are pressing charges? But we got your boots back, isn’t that all that really matters?”

“No – not really, ” I said, suddenly very confident in my decision, “what matters is raising kids to be responsible adults.”

A few days later the phone rang at 7am. It was the officer working our case. He had picked up my daughter’s boots and wanted to bring them by the house so that she could wear them to school. It was an incredibly sweet gesture, but she had already gotten on the bus. He then offered to bring them to her school – again, way above and beyond – but I wanted to see what kind of condition they were in and clean them, so I offered to come get them from the station. He was very appreciative, as was I.

On the way there, I just kept wondering if this would be a turning point for this little girl. Would she make better choices later? Would she and her parents perhaps have more communication? I hoped that this would end up being a positive outcome. When I picked up the boots, tucked inside one of them was a note. The officer had not read it and was under the assumption that it was an apology. I signed the paper work, grabbed the boots and headed home. Once home, I finally pulled out the note:

“Sorry for the inconvenience…”

Inconvenience? You have GOT to be joking!

She then went on to explain that she has the same boots and forgot that she left them on the bus and only wore her flip-flops into our school. After the meet, she put my daughter’s boots on thinking they were hers.

That was her pathetic attempt at an apology. So let me get this straight. She by “mistake” went into someone else’s locker and took out their boots. She didn’t notice that none of the clothes were hers?

And then, once she got on the bus, she didn’t question the fact that she supposedly had another pair of the same boots already on the bus? And, in addition to those two lies, it took her two days and a team meeting to “tell” anyone her “mistake”?

My initial impulse was to make a copy of this ridiculous letter and give it to the police. I wondered what, if any, consequences had been doled out. The anger inside me was bubbling over.

I took a deep breath, folded the letter and put it in a file. This was not my child and I was not her parent. Obviously there were bigger issues here than just some stolen boots, and unfortunately, this is where my story ends. Because really, what could I do about it anyway? Even if I did bring this new development to the police’s attention, whose to say her parents wouldn’t just run out and buy her the same boots to back up her bullshit story?

My daughter, and all her team mates, remember to bring locks now.

Perhaps, one lesson was learned.

9 thoughts on “These Boots Weren’t Made for Walking

  1. As someone who prosecutes juvenile delinquents, I deal with that same issue almost daily. More often then not I make my decision based on how the parents and children react when they are caught. If the minor excepts responsibility and the parent(s) discipline the minor I am much less likely to send them through juvenile court. However when they take the attitude that this is no big deal, to me it only increases the likelihood it will happen again. I would encourage you to turn the note into the police, so the prosecutor can see the non-challant attitude the minor is taking towards the whole incident.

  2. Being a parent is tough. Controlling our emotions as a parent can be almost impossible at times. Although my daughter is only 5, I already struggle with what the appropriate responses (and advice) should be.

    Not only did you quickly apologize for your own short-coming, you definately set a strong example for your children. We can all learn from the stolen boots. And hopefully the other girl will choose to make better decisions for herself in the future.

  3. Uh, kinda of funny then that your daughter’s team didn’t notice the other girl’s boots lying around then. 😉 I think you did right but I also feel sorry for the other girl, maybe there’s more to it, maybe it is the parenting, who knows, but things can’t or won’t be good for her. Honesty is such an important thing and to raise your children to believe in it, whatever the consequences, is vital. Hey, you’ve done that and at least there’s two more young honest people in the world because of you and DW. 🙂

  4. Oh what a tough situation you guys were in. But I completely agree with you – not that I wouldn’t have struggled with it as well. And you’re spot on with the note etc. It was stealing, plain and simple. Good for you for handling it so well – and really, so calmly. I think there would have been a lot more yelling, from me, in this house. Kudos.

  5. Wow. You do know what an awesome parent you are, don’t you? You didn’t shrink away from either your parenting responsibilities to your own kids or your more limited responsibilities to someone else’s kid. Brava!

    (From a writing point of view, my favorite moment of the story is when DW gently informs you that you’re on speaker. I crowed out loud when I read that — it was a great moment of comic relief in a story that otherwise holds a good deal of tension.)

  6. that would be brutal, and really upsetting for your daughter! Definitely a guilt/misery type situation, what with it being her own mistake that let someone else do this.
    When I was very young, I stole candy of some sort (probably of the 5cent variety, but still) from the variety store near my house when my mom and I went to pick up some small groceries. She found out, marched me back up there (after calling the guy to let him know to let me have it) to apologise and return the stolen goods. Apparently, he played along very well, reduced me to tears with his explanation of how I had taken money from him, money that he used to buy his family food, and keep a roof over their head. I don’t actually remember all this (was too young, i guess), but the lesson stuck. “Stealing is wrong.”
    When a kid steals something like expensive boots, no, they shouldn’t get to just walk away, no consequences. You did the right thing, since clearly her parents were fine with her sending you excuses and walking away scott free.

    1. I would have made my daughter apologize face to face too. That is very humbling…in fact, I’ve made her apologize for other things, less humiliating. Unfortunately, you’re right too about the expensive part. It makes me think this was not her first theft. I very surreal experience.

  7. That’s a tough decision. You don’t want to necessarily press charges, but you definitely want the parents to PARENT and have their child “suffer consequences” to teach them about honesty and becoming a responsible adult. I’m sure if the parent had just asked to speak with you, and everyone sat down so they could make their child, physically return the stolen item to the owner of property and make a public apology, directly to them…that would have been the first step. Then the parents could have agreed to some form of punishment, that is so distasteful, to deter them from that future behavior…that would have been teaching them to accept responsibility for their actions. It would have “embarrassed” them. Apologizing to someone’s face has got to be about the most humbling experience.

    Since the parents chose not to parent, then you had no other choice. You were placed in a position to have to do the parenting for them- by pressing charges. Hopefully, this will get through to that child. Hopefully, YOU made a difference.

    What a nasty situation. It’s a shame. I’m glad she has them undamaged.

    Lake Forest, CA

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