When a child steals

It feels a tad strange saying that a memory as a six-year-old was a significant event. I’ve always been aware of the memory; it has come into my head several times over the years. My mother obviously thought this was an appropriate method, to teach me not to steal. I had spoken to a couple of people about it, had joked about it, laughing “well it obviously worked, because I have never stolen since”.

I don’t really know why we spoke about it in my counselling session, but we did. And two days later driving to work, for whatever reason my brain decided to think about it again.

However, today I saw it completely differently and it became significant. Today I relived the event as a 47-year-old. This time, I experienced the memory, it felt real. As if I were that six-year-old. I felt her pain, her anxiety and the fear. For the first time I really thought about what my mum had said to me, how she made me feel.

I stole from school

It must have been November 1978, because I recall being six and one of the items that I stole was a poppy, along with an eraser and a pencil sharpener. I had chosen to show my mother the items I had taken from children in my class, so I obviously hadn’t considered what I had done to be wrong, I don’t recall actually stealing the items. I’m not aware of why I had stolen them.

My Mother decided the appropriate action was to march to the school, force me to stand up in front of the entire class and tell them what I had done.  I was a very shy child, I didn’t have any friends and I rarely spoke to anyone. The teacher terrified me. Having to talk to one person was dauting, and now I had to talk in front of them all!

The punishment

When I recounted the memory today, I felt like I was a child, looking up as my mother screamed at me “You are going to stand up and tell everyone just what a horrible child you are! They will all know you were are a thief and no one will like you” I was begging her, please mum, please don’t make me stand up in front of everyone.

The worst part, is the very long wait until the inevitable happens, I have to wait to receive my punishment, making the fear build inside as every minute ticks by.

I don’t really understand what I felt, as this memory became a reality. Was I feeling what I thought the 6-year-old me may have felt, or was I actually feeling the memory and how I really felt at the time? I have no idea, all I know is it was an awful feeling, I was actually terrified.

I could feel her physically dragging me to the school gates. Digging my shoes into the pavement, desperate to delay the inevitable. I cried and begged all the way to school. However, she had decided my punishment, and nothing could change her mind. I felt like I had physically shrunk, I felt like I was no longer an adult, I was the six-year-old me. We were now stood at the school doors, I felt physically sick, I was panic stricken.

She told the teacher, who was reasonable and didn’t feel that I needed to address the entire class. However, my mother insisted. I am sure that woman got pleasure from my pain.

I didn’t really see how it was to stand up there, telling everyone what a horrible child and thief I was. The main memory / flashback focus was on my mother telling me what was going to happen and the journey to the classroom.

How it affected me

Why would you tell a child what you were going to do? Make them wait in terror for what was to come? I look at children I know of a similar age and I cannot imagine putting them through that. Whilst I accept it is wrong to steal, there are far better ways to deal with it. I don’t believe she had to traumatise me the way that she did.

Did she have to tell me what a horrible child I was? I’d made a mistake; I was a kid still learning what is sociably acceptable. She made me feel like the world was against me, everyone hated me. She knew I was already a loner, why isolate me further?

Sobbing hysterically, I was terrified that I was going mad. The memory had played out so vividly, it was very much real time – happening now – not in my distant past. As a result, I had to contact my counsellor I was so disturbed.

Left feeling exhausted, both physically and mentally drained. My brain is obsessed with this one memory, a memory that I didn’t even know was important and maybe it isn’t important, but just wants to be heard. But I suspect it is important, it feels to me like this was the first time I felt embarrassed and humiliated.

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