A long time ago, we had a wonderful 5 year old and 7 year old brothers as foster sons.
One weekend as a new, and naive foster dad, I took the boys with me to visit my 88 year old Granny in Vermont. The visit entailed four plane rides (two each direction).
Before we left, I told the boys I’d need their best behavior for Granny. As an incentive, I told them I’d give them $3 at the start of each day of the trip. The deal I offered is that if they were disobedient, I’d fine them a dollar.
New foster dad thought this would work great. Fining kids a dollar. Perfect.
The first flight from St. Louis to Chicago was flawless. New foster dad for the win.
In Chicago, the boys decided to buy a snack. They looked and looked. Gum? Or candy bar? So many choices.
But then. Our flight was announced over the PA. Time to leave the giftshop.
I called to the boys: “Time to go, fellas. Can’t miss our flight.”
“No,” said the older one. “We haven’t picked our snack yet.”
“Yes,” I said confidently. “And give me a dollar. For being disobedient.”
He turned to me, his small jaw set square. He drop-kicked his backpack across the store.
“You are a mother f*cking indian giver!” He bellowed.
I stared in disbelief. So did the cashier.
He added loudly, “And you are the worst damn foster father ever!”
Before he could dropkick anything else, I carried him away.
This story is funny now and makes me laugh even as I type it.
What I learned from it, though, is that sometimes we all have hidden “wounds” that pop up in the most surprising places. Granted, paying kids to behave is a terrible idea, which this new at-the-time foster dad didn’t know.
But what I also didn’t know is that those brothers had been forced to beg by their parents, and relinquish their meager earnings to their mom and dad. And so when I “fined” him a dollar, I reminded him of deep trauma he had experienced. Lesson learned.