We were the victims of a thief. Well, almost. He picked the wrong house.
I was on my way to the kitchen to make grilled cheese when I took a detour. To the living room couch. You know, the living room? Where no one goes. No one hangs out. No one “lives” in. I rarely go in that room, much less sit in it. But this day I did. I sat in the one and only spot in the house that has a good view of the street and front door. One of my kids inquired from upstairs, “Is lunch ready yet?” “Almost” I replied, even though I hadn’t started it yet. As I mustered the energy to get up, I noticed 3 teens walking up our street. I normally wouldn’t have given this a second thought since there are several families with teenagers on our street (including us), so it is a regular occurrence for teens to be coming and going. But they had on school back packs, so I pondered why they would be carrying them during the summer. I didn’t think summer school had started yet.
I was about to get up when one of them started walking toward our house. Crap. They must be selling something. I guess that would explain the back packs. I can never say no to a student raising money for something (and no, that isn’t an invitation for you to send your kids to my house for every fundraiser). I sat there dreading the sales pitch as he walked onto our front porch. He reached for the doorbell. Wait. Our doorbell is on the other side of the door. What is he reaching for? Jake’s longboard that was propped up by the front door flashed by the window in the boy’s hand as he took off running.
I instantly went from not being able to drag myself off the couch to being out on the porch in a nanosecond. This loud, booming voice yelled “You better drop that!!” Oh, that voice came out of me. Wow. Not even my kids have heard a bellow like that. Adrenaline kicked in and I started booking it, chasing the boy down the street. Barefoot. He saw me and eventually dropped the board, but it didn’t end there. By that point, I wanted him caught. Period. The fact that he no longer had the board was irrelevant in my mind. I’m sure he was the one thinking “CRAP” when he saw the loony woman on his heels. He finally turned onto a side street that led into a wooded area. Common sense overrode the adrenaline so I stopped instead of following him into the woods.
Further ahead on the street, I saw the other two boys. They were nonchalantly walking along like they didn’t have a care in the world. I caught up with them and tried with all my might to hide the fact that I was panting like a dog from running faster than I had in probably 15 years. They had the audacity to deny being with the boy, even though I saw them together before the incident. After a few minutes, I realized they weren’t going to provide any information. I was wasting my breath. And I didn’t have much breath left at that moment. My hands were shaking from the ordeal but I managed to get them steady enough to push the camera button on my cell (somehow I had grabbed my phone when I jumped off the couch, even though I don’t remember doing that). I said something to make them turn around and look at me, though I don’t remember what it was that I said either. Click. Got it. They didn’t seem so indifferent anymore. One said, “What are you doing?? Why are you taking our picture??” When they found out I was going to show it to my sons to see if they recognized them, the other hesitantly said “Jimmy knows who I am.” Awesome. They looked really worried now. They thought it was only a matter of time before their “mug shot” gave them away. What they didn’t know is that the photo SUCKED. I didn’t zoom in so the image of their faces was so small (and blurry…remember the shaking) that they were unrecognizable. I didn’t let them in on that little tidbit though.
I knew talking to them any further would get me nowhere so I turned around and started walking home, waiting until they were out of ear shot to start gasping for air. When I got home, I let the kids know what happened and then grabbed the car keys. Off Jake and I went, driving through the neighborhood in search of the culprits. Sure enough, the two accomplices were standing on the front steps of a house. I’m sure they wished they had gotten out of sight as quickly as possible when they saw my car pull up. They still tried to deny knowing the other boy but once I continually pointed out how ridiculous that was to say, they tried to give me a fake name. I didn’t believe it for a moment and realized, once again, trying to talk to them any further at that moment was futile. I left, after telling the Mom what had happened. At least now I knew the name of one of the three. I’ll call him Sam.
I pulled out the high school year book and started looking through the 1,500 or so tiny class shots. I didn’t recognize the thief in any of them but was able to find the other unknown side-kick. I’ll call him Roger. I felt like I had reached a dead-end though. The boys I had identified weren’t going to rat out their friend. I couldn’t think of any other way to find him. Failure. I brooded the rest of the day over the boy not being punished for his actions.
It wasn’t until the next day that I had a EUREKA moment! The best source I know of for finding someone – Facebook. I logged onto Jimmy’s account. Fortunately, teens send friend requests to everyone they remotely know so both Sam and Roger were on Jimmy’s friend list. I pulled up their profiles. Unfortunately, teens send friend requests to everyone they remotely know so there were over 1,000 friends on each of their accounts. That wasn’t any easier than looking through the tiny yearbook photos. Dead-end again. As a last-ditch effort, I decided to scan down the list to see if by some miracle I recognized a face. Doubtful. But as I scrolled down, I did notice something unusual. Roger’s profile picture was a photo of a plate full of chicken nuggets and french fries. A friend on his list had the exact same profile picture. As I clicked on that account, I saw an oh-so-familiar face in the photos. Bingo! It was him! I was so excited you would have thought I had just solved the mystery of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.
Now that I had identified the thief – I’ll call him Pete – it was time to think things through and not make a rash decision. How to handle this, that was the big question. Most people I talked to said to call the police. Frankly, that would have been an easier course of action. It didn’t feel like the right course of action though. The longboard cost around $200 which is a felony in Virginia. Once a felon, always a felon. Juvenile or not. While I wanted Pete to be punished for what he did, I did not want to permanently have him labeled a felon. I wanted him to learn from his mistake, not be scarred by it for life.
I couldn’t figure out where Pete lived. Another road block. As a last resort, I went back to Sam’s house. I let them know I had discovered Pete’s identity and made sure the parents understood that I was correct when I accused Sam of giving me a false name. By the way, the false name was an actual person so if my Mommy radar hadn’t told me they were lying, I would have gone to an innocent boy’s house and looked like a fool. Sam still wouldn’t reveal an address so I had to throw out a threat that he would either give me the address or he would be forced to give it to the police when they showed up at his door. The parents were at our house in less than an hour with the address. Luckily, they didn’t call my bluff.
Before I lost my nerve, my husband and I drove to Pete’s house. I will never forget the look on his face when he answered the door and saw me standing there asking to speak to his parents. I had mentally prepared myself for a variety of reactions – denial (my son would never do that), anger (how dare you accuse him of that), and complacency (teens will be teens). Thankfully I got gratitude (for not calling the police), respect (for having the courage to come discuss it) and accountability (wanting to make sure their son learned his lesson).
As part of his punishment, the parents asked if Pete could mow our grass. They wanted something that would make him face us and accept responsibility for what he did. He sheepishly came to our house with mower and weed eater in hand. Before he began mowing, I had a little chat with him. When I was at his house, he had referred to it a couple of times as “just a stupid prank.” That bothered me. I wanted to make sure he understood how his “prank” would have ruined Jake’s summer and beyond. Jake had saved and paid for the longboard himself. It takes a 13 year old a long time to save that kind of money. I asked Pete how it would make him feel to have to sit home while his friends were all longboarding because someone had stolen his board. I think he got it, so I let him start his task. Even though it was unbearably hot that day, I stayed in the yard doing some gardening while he started mowing. I am not proud that I wanted to make it harder on him by having me out there, but I did. I finally went inside when I decided that needing to stop sweating exceeded wanting to make him uncomfortable.
While inside, Eric came up to me and asked if he could take Pete a Gatorade because it was so hot outside. I was so impressed and humbled by Eric’s compassion. Even for someone who tried to steal from us. When I told Eric how proud I was that he wanted to do that, he responded that “people always tell me I’m a lot like you, Mom.” I surely didn’t feel like I deserved that comment at that moment. I had just spent the last hour “sweating it out” literally with the sole purpose of making Pete “sweat it out” figuratively. Not my best moment. But I guess in comparison to potentially sending him to Juvenile Detention by calling the police, my actions weren’t all that terrible.
A few days later, I saw Pete. Longboarding with his friends. Really. I wondered if he had been punished at all, other than mowing. I would have thought grounding would have been more than appropriate. I second guessed my decision not to call the police. But deep down I know it was the right decision for me. And this is one case where I want the saying “what goes around, comes around” to be true. Hopefully one day when (I’m not naive enough to say if) one of my boys does something stupid, good karma will come back to us and we won’t have the po-po show up at our door.
Did he really learn his lesson? I probably will never know but I tell myself he did. Regardless, I’m still proud of how I handled it. Proud I had the cahonas to chase him. Proud of my sleuthing skills. Proud of being bold enough to go to his house instead of having the police do it. Proud that Eric sees me as compassionate, even when I know I’m not always. And proud that I’m probably now known as the crazy, psycho Mom that will hunt you down if you mess with my family. As Jake exclaimed one day as Eric did something to make him angry, “Don’t make me go all Mom on you!!”
As an afterward, I will end with a funny conversation that stemmed from this:
Eric: “What’s a felony?”
Jake: “It’s more serious than a misdemeanor.”
Eric: “What’s a misdemeanor?”
Jake (in a silly voice): “Who is this Mr. Meaner you speak of?”
Me (also in silly voice): “I don’t know, but I’m Misses Meaner.”