Step eleven asks me to keep seeking the riddle of existence: What’s God’s will for me? I usually know what it’s not (don’t drink and don’t hurt others). In early sobriety, I was told that His will was the opposite of mine. That may hold true for my nearly six-year-old son as well.
It was almost the end of the school year when Daniel became the treasured child. Every day for a week he came in from school, dumped his backpack, and showed me the treasure of the day (ostensibly for good behavior). “Treasure box again,” I said. “Wow. Three days in a row. You’re either lucky or very, very good.”
“I was the only one good today,” he said. Again.
On Friday of that week, he dumped his backpack and out came five treasures — a talking chipmunk, a caterpillar, a ladybug, a kitty cat, and a sheep puppet. He literally let the cat out of the bag.
“How did you get so many in one day?” I asked. I could see him trying on lies. He began to spin some fascinating tales, stretching the truth to snapping point.
Caught, he started to cry, as he heard me talking on the phone to his teacher, who identified some of his “treasures” as classroom décor. I got a grocery bag for Daniel to put all the stolen items in, not completely trusting his selection process — a plastic caterpillar in, a talking chipmunk out. We discussed stealing and lying and how they are the same offense.
When Daddy came home, I told him privately about the stolen loot. He was a bit anxious, hoping, as I was, that this behavior did not mark our son a thief for life. (Since he’s our one and only, there’s no frame of reference.) My husband said he put the fear of God into Daniel at bedtime, in his quiet way, simply saying, “No son of mine will be a thief.”
On Monday, we faced his teacher — who was surprised by what he’d done. “The ones who steal do so because their basic needs aren’t being met,” she remarked, “but I know this isn’t the case here.” Doubt plagued me, the teacher’s words imprinting on my brain. But I had school of my own all week and so I couldn’t dwell on it, as school meant a long commute, long hours, and homework, which also meant no time for morning meditation (because I didn’t allow it). There was little eleventh step going on, only at the eleventh hour, a quick “Help” in the morning and “Thanks” at night, instead of my usual quiet time apart with God.
A day later, I found some treasure of my own on the bookstore’s sale table. Your Six-Year-Old: Loving and Defiant, by Louise Bates Ames and Frances L. Ilg, sounded like the word of God itself to my unquiet mind. In the section “Ethical problems” came my answer: “(S)ix seems not always able to tell the difference between mine and thine. In other words, he often steals. . . . (i)f he does something wrong and you accuse him of it, it is most unlikely that he will admit it.” I bought the book and gave it, like a drug, to my husband that night. We both needed something to take the edge off. (I love this series of books because the authors focus on what normal development looks like, not attempting to fix what’s not broken.) It felt a bit like the freedom from self-will I aspire to, and reminded me that child nature, like so many things, is beyond my control.
I believe I am much more than an alcoholic, more than a diagnosis and a treatment. I believe that Daniel is both a thief and an innocent. It’s a subversive idea, the innocence, the story behind the obvious guilt, and is worth spending a lifetime telling. It is creased in our brows, our eyes, our souls, all that we do not know yet feel somehow. It’s the surprising yet inevitable idea of God. The eleventh step addresses this. Through making a habit of daily prayer and meditation, this step contains all that I know of Him, and also my doubts. Something writ large in my heart. A hunch, a nudge in one direction, the occasional inspiration — these are the rewards of conscious contact with God, all of which gradually become a working part of the mind.
One book says we should not steal. Another says that it’s inevitable we will. Hence the tragic comedy of the human story through the ages; caught between a rock and a hard place, we should not do, but we do. And who will intercede on our behalf? I pray to know God better, for strength not my own to overcome the things that would kill me, finding that grace and mercy are necessary, because the rub about being us is that we know a lot but the knowing doesn’t always save us. Caught up in the pain of being human, I need to be taught what the next right thing is by the divine. And I’ll keep my eye on Daniel until this age of sticky fingers is done.