One Way to Teach a Kid About Karma


My foster mom used to put a sign-up list on the refrigerator each day of chores that needed to be done. She always had 5 or 10 things on the list so that we could sign up evenly for 1 to 2 chores.

The rule was that none of us got to play or do anything we wanted to do until the dinner chores were done (chores where in addition to clean up that was required after every meal: clearing table/washing drying dishes/sweeping/mopping if needed) and then our chores list was completed.  As I became older, I couldn’t even leave to go on a date unless my chores were completed.

Having us sign up for chores was like tossing a pork chop to a pack of hungry dogs.

As soon as the school bus turned onto our street each girl would be packed up, we would make eye contact that said, “you’re going down today!”, our legs would be in the aisle ready to jump up and run down the narrow path with no care to anyone who might get bumped along the way as we raced to be first out of the gate—I mean bus doors.

I don’t remember, but I’m sure a few of us pushed or tripped a sister out of the way now and then to ensure being first across the finish line—I mean to the refrigerator.

First one to the list meant first to sign up for the easiest chores, first one finished with chores, and first to go play.

We usually worked well as a team to get dinner dishes done so we could hurry and start our list.  But then a new girl moved in, let’s call her Fancy Nails.  She was an okay girl except when doing dishes, and somehow she always seemed to end up with the washing assignment and man SHE WAS SLOOOOOW.

Fancy Nails had half inch to inch long natural nails, and she always worried about breaking or chipping them. She would pinch a dish or utensil with two fingers of one hand and pinch the dish rag with two fingers of the other hand and slowly wash each dish that way taking over an hour to get it all done.

Most girls can relate to concern over the fingernails, but Fancy Nails lived with 4 tomboys who found outdoor play time more important than fretting over nails.

The more she cut into our play time, the more we resented Fancy Nails. Something had to be done.

Fancy Nails was a deep sleeper so one night I clipped her nails.

I know, that’s not nice, and that’s exactly what my foster dad said when he noticed the bedroom light on after we all should have been long asleep and decided to check on us. He found me hovering over Fancy Nails in her sleep, trying to clip each nail without waking her.

“What are you doing?” he asked from the door way.

“I’m tired of her taking up all our free time because she doesn’t want to break a nail,” I whispered still trying not to wake her.

“Is that smart?” He asked. I was surprised that he wasn’t scolding me or grounding me.

“She needs to speed up. We are all tired of her,” I justified, “I’m just the only one who will do something about it.”

“What do you think she will do when she sees her nails have been cut?” Great question Daddy. I knew she would be mad, but hadn’t thought much more beyond that.

He added something like, “She hasn’t lived with us long and we don’t know much about her. What if she’s violent? What if she gets so angry she tries to hurt you while you sleep? We haven’t had her long enough to know how she will handle it. I would be hiding anything that could be used to hurt me if I were you.”

My clever feeling was instantly replaced by “Oh, CRAP.” I abandoned the mission and got in bed leaving Fancy Nails with 2 long nails.
Daddy turned the light out and I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. I was no longer worried about play time, but about all the ways she might hurt me.

The next day, Fancy Nails got up, went to school, came home,and did dishes a little bit faster, but she never mentioned her clipped nails. I’d expected her to be angry and or to tattle.

“I think she’s okay with it,” I told my foster dad. “She’s acting like nothing happened. Maybe she doesn’t care.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “She really took care of those nails. I can’t believe she doesn’t care. What if she’s one of those people who stay quiet until they get revenge?”

I’m older so now I know what Daddy did here. No punishment could teach me a lesson like the paranoia he put in my head wondering what Fancy Nails would do to exact her revenge.

Sharing a room with Fancy Nails, I don’t think I slept well for 2 or 3 weeks. Anytime she moved in her sleep, I startled awake thinking she was coming for me. Anytime she helped set the table for dinner, I worried that she put something in my drink or food. When I helped her with dishes and saw her working on the sharp object I put distance between us.

To this day, I don’t know if Fancy Nails ever said anything about the clipping. Sometimes I wonder if she knew how paranoid my foster dad made me and played along. I know I was much nicer to her and eventually I started sleeping better. I don’t think I completely dropped my guard though until she moved on to live with her family again.

2 thoughts on “One Way to Teach a Kid About Karma

Add yours

  1. I get a little chuckle out of imagining you all nervous, under the covers, wondering if she is going to come get you or not. But, I can only imagine how nerve-racking that must have been not knowing if she was going to get you or not.

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