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Who Keyed My Car?

Who Keyed My Car?


I drive around town in a big black SUV that fits many children, car seats, groceries and gear. I am grateful for this car, large enough for my family, and I’m grateful for the lesson it has taught me . . .

My car has prominent scratches from being keyed across much of the right side passenger door. I get a lot of feedback on the competency of the so called “keyer,” someone who took the time to etch each detail exactly and neatly. People constantly ask me about what happened, and how I reacted when I saw it, expressing the anger they would feel if, G‑d forbid, My car has prominent scratchesthis vandalism happened to them. Sometimes I laugh; sometimes I tell them that it’s fine, it’s just a car; and sometimes, I tell them the rest of the story.

You probably want to know what it says on my car and who did it. Well, the etching on my car explicitly spells out my son’s name, which he so diligently carved into the paint on the car door as he was perfecting his name-writing skills—together with quite a few doodles. Was it etched with love? Or was it etched with a sense of creativity?

I am guessing more with abandon and otherworld dreaminess, the lackadaisical demeanor of many young boys drifting in and out of their own fantasy lands of imaginative play. My son was 6, the age when children are so excited to know the secret code of the alphabet, when they practice writing everywhere. The same age when a child cannot resist reading every written word placed before him—on billboards, cereal boxes and road signs—reading that takes effort because his list of sight words still fits on one column of a page. An age where a child is hopefully past coloring on walls, but on random papers like the mail, a book or magazine that is in front of him, not so much. Without intending to, and when he is zoning out of his immediate surroundings and into his play world, those papers might accidentally become illustrated with the story being played out in his mind. This is surely the mindset my 6-year-old possessed when he keyed my car.

In addition to being this “kind of kid,” he also was in possession of a really cool spear that his older brother received as a gift from Africa many years ago. It must have been in some closet, and he found it—and it was sharp. We were all outside on a beautiful spring day, deciding which kids were loading into which car on our way to a Passover family outing. While the adults were packing food and arranging things, my son was on the periphery decorating our car. My husband came outside and witnessed the final flourish of our “designer” car, and gasped. He might have also yelled, “What are you doing?!” but that is all. My son, realizing what he had done, ran into the house—fast. He curled himself into a ball next to me on the couch as I was tying someone’s shoe, and began to cry. I didn’t have long to wonder what had happened; three of my children made sure to tell me exactly what took place. I was left thinking about how to handle this.

Anything I wanted to say would not make sense to a 6-year-old. What does a 6-year-old know about the price of a paint job for a big SUV; what does he know about something that is really expensive; what does he know about permanence, about destruction and vandalism? I could tell it was nothing. My son got caught up in the etching and sketching without fully appreciating what he was doing, but as soon as my husband roused him from his daydream with “What are you doing?!” he knew exactly what he did wrong. I didn’t need to lecture him; he was already crying and ashamed of himself.

My son regretted his experiment with contemporary art and wished he could undo it, but it was too late. So I made the choice not to make him feel any worse (and my husband did the same, after the initial shock). We didn’t punish him or scold. I did take the time later to go over what kind of creativity is permissible and what is considered destructive. I am sure keying my car didn’t feel much different to him than using the sharp clay tools to draw his letters into the clay in preschool, or chalking the He knew exactly what he did wrongsidewalk on a warm summer day, or painting the windows of the old car in summer camp before the grand carwash. But once he learned that it was indeed different, his name was already there, and would be there for a very long time—punishment enough. A natural consequence, the type parents should try hard not to interfere with.

He is a year older now, and seeing his name does not bother him, or at least he has never asked me to get it painted over. But for me, his name etched in my car is the sign of a real defining moment in my parenting: the time I didn’t lose it. I let my son feel his own pain without taking away his dignity. I comforted him, and I praised him for realizing his mistake and being remorseful. Of course, I was supremely upset that he ruined my almost-new car, but that was beside the point. He made a mistake, he was sorry, and I didn’t mess this one up.

We have a keyed car, a story to tell, a proud mom, and a kid who is still working on his dreaminess and his writing skills—on paper, of course.

Dena Schusterman is a founder of Chabad Intown, the Intown Jewish Preschool, and the Intown Hebrew School. Dena writes about parenting and applied Torah and Chassidic thought and teaches women's classes. Dena and her husband Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman are native Californians living in Atlanta together with their children.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Chuck Rubin Margate, Florida via May 1, 2016

Excellent parenting. Best part is that both parents acted as a united front. Reply

M L K Brockton Ma April 11, 2016

Parenthood Receive the New Post daily read stories like this constantly . Babies turn into adults that is where the serious problems begin minor robbery and so forth . Your judgement in this case was not wise . Young children should be taught right from wrong when they are young . Reply

Anon. 2.0 Midwest, USA April 9, 2016

Sideline Insight Usually, I don't lend my voice to the discussion but I felt like it was important to mention how well-restrained the response by the parents here is. Although our family is not of Jewish heritage or faith, we do raise our own children in a Judeo-Christian household. We have a 3, almost 4 year old boy who constantly tests our patience. When a child does something they know is wrong, it is commonplace for them to run to a position of comfort whether it be with mum or dad or whomever they perceive to be the giver. In my family, it is my wife to whom my son runs, while I am perceived as the judge. Usually, it is up to me to arbitrate any punishment, to which my son responds by screaming, most of the time. Letting a child see the result of their wrong-doing is NOT a bad thing. WHY should they be prevented from seeing natural consequences? Are they not living their life as we are? Let's use both good judgement and sounds reasoning as well, yes? Consequence is valuable. Reply

Barbara Niles Phoenix, Arizona April 8, 2016

Responsibility and Respect With all due respect to you, Ms. Schusterman, I do not agree with how you handled your son's actions, i.e., "keying" the car. Children, even at age six can understand responsibility and respect. Whether you had the car repainted or not, once you explained to the child calmly and quietly that what he did was wrong, you might have asked him to help pay for the repair by giving you a few cents from his allowance. This would also be a great opportunity to teach him about respecting other's belongings. I think you did your son a huge disservice here by not increasing his knowledge of values. I'm sure you don't want him to grow up without taking responsibility for his own actions and without respect for others. Reply

Anonymous April 7, 2016

Woa 2comments that are at the opposite side of the spectrum. Well I think the parents were just about right. Keep up the good work Schustermans. May you have continued Nachas from all your children Reply

Suri Brooklyn April 7, 2016

Beautiful Thank you for helping us see that the world looks very different in the eyes of a six year old. They never mean to do wrong.
It requires a lot of maturity to understand a child. Your son is blessed to have you. Reply

Anonymous April 6, 2016

Hooray for not losing it! I got this article as part of the newsletter. In the same newsletter, the headlining article was about our frequent rush to pass judgment on others, especially online. Interesting context.

I'm not sure I would have made the same choice as a parent if my kid damaged something valuable. What I like about this article is the way the author took a deep breath and considered before responding, in the midst of an already chaotic family moment. I'm going to assume that she knows her kid, what he needs, and what he feels better than any of her readers do. Every parent is going to have their own style, but most thoughtful decisions made in love turn out ok.

Also- as an adult I made a very expensive mistake at work. Being allowed to keep my job was a big lesson in grace for me. And the embarrassment of staying in that place where I screwed up was a big lesson in humility. Reply

shayna leah floida April 6, 2016

my son did the same thing when he was 4 and got a good scolding, Five yrs later and never repaired my once beautiful car is rusting all over where he scratched it with a key., Car looks terrible, but we don't have the money to fix it. Car looks like a rusted piece of junk and at least no one will try to steal it. Reply

Looking ahead with joy, especially now April 6, 2016

Enough, continued I must strongly disagree with the comment that the child got away with murder. He is the victim here, as is evidenced by the fact that he went unnoticed with a sharp African spear in his hands long enough to do extensive damage to the vehicle. Now that I have re-read the original article, I see that the damage was not confined to just the driver's door. A six year old child needs supervision and guidance, no matter how many other siblings he has and no matter what other activities are happening around him. I still contend that he should not be reminded of that awful day every time he gets into the vehicle. Reply

Tina D. NYC April 6, 2016

You are his inside voice As adults, we all know that ultimately our parents will forever be the voices that talk to us inside our heads as we grow up. No matter how old we are.
The message you have given your son?
'Hey, it's okay to mess up. It's okay to make mistakes. We love you. You're a great kid who did something you should not have done. But keep moving forward.'
I grew up with parents who had a similar parenting approach to as you as do I, and today, as an adult, when I mess up, be it in my own parenting or other areas of my life, I have a voice inside my head that always says, 'it's okay, you messed up. We all make mistakes. Let's fix what happened and Just move forward.'
Good job mom. You did good. Reply

David Green Baltimore Maryland April 6, 2016

If Only If only i would have the patience of a saint and the judgement of a righteous person that you have. Yes a mistake was made and you made it into art.

Glad that his name does not bother him. You are a wonderful mom - keep it up Reply

C.H.Jedidiah da Costa-Gomez USA April 5, 2016

Who keyed my car? This child got away with murder!
He certainly did not have any "horrible feeling every time" the child sees his graffiti as suggested by the previous commentator. As a matter of fact, he did not ask his mother to repair the car to remove this painfull reminder (LOL). The graffiti is his trophy, in french "sa griffe".
Did he know that "what he did was not an inaceptable act"? Of course he did, but did it anyway. The tears were not shedded because he was sorry, but to prevent being punished (manipulative). Of course, he ran away to tolerating (parenting) mommy. The child should be taught clearly that there is a unbreakable relation between cause and effect(s),
Please do not send any money to this mother for her parenting skills need an overall within Jewish Laws (Fundamental) . Unless you want to help paying for future defacing of people properties. Reply

Look ahead with joy, especially now...... Jerusalem April 5, 2016

Enough! Your article is well written and indeed imparts a good lesson for parents, but I am wondering how long is "a long time?" How long did you let him sit in dirty diapers? How long did you keep crayon writings on your dining room wall? How long would you wait to fix body damage to your vehicle that you or your husband carelessly caused? Do you want your child to have life long guilt issues? If you don't have the money to repaint the door, please reply and I will send you a check drawn on a U.S. bank to have it fixed. Please, please don't make him relive that horrible feeling every time he looks at the drivers door...your door...the door you are making him see for a "very long time." Reply

M. Diane Flushing April 3, 2016

So adorable You sound like a great mom and dad team! Reply

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