Saturday afternoon we were all sitting around a picnic table eating ice cream following an afternoon hike, when Wes reached over with his fingers and dug a mouthful of Mexican Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles out of my bowl.
I am used to such indignities, but Ryan was horrified. "NO!" he exclaimed. "Wes, you can't do that to other people's food!!"
It was pretty gross, considering we'd just spent an afternoon in the woods.
Tonight, over a dinner of Frito Pie, it came up again. Wes said with genuine confusion "Why was it OK when Mom took a French fry off my plate at lunch today?" I said sheepishly "I replaced it when my food came out a minute later, right?" Ryan responded "Mom PAID for your fries!" (#dadmove) but because I am a good X-ennial afraid of screwing my kid up for life I added "If you would rather not share your fries with me, that is OK. I will ask next time." But then because I want them to understand the difference between stealing a French fry from a family member's plate and DIGGING YOUR FINGERS IN YOUR NEIGHBOR'S ICE CREAM (for instance), I initiated a little guessing game.
"OK guys. I will say a food and you tell me whether it's OK to take it off the plate of your best friend or a family member or if you should leave it alone. Say 'Yes' if you can take it and 'No' when you can't."
All of the kids perked up because they think games like this are hilarious.
"French fries?" I began.
"Yes," James and Wes answered in unison.
"Half a sandwich?"
Wes said no, James wanted to know what kind of sandwich, and Charley wanted to know if it was alright to ask whether the other person was finished.
I gave them one I thought would be easy. "Broccoli."
Wes was an emphatic no and James cocked his head to one side like a Jack Russell Terrier then stared into the middle distance for several moments.
"Potato chips" got a yes from everyone and I thought we were getting somewhere, but then they also said yes to "Macaroni and cheese".
"Fork foods are ALWAYS a no, you guys!" I mumbled into my hands, which were pressed tightly against my face.
"Wes, what if you and Tommy [one of his best friends] each had a cupcake on your plate. He had chocolate and you had vanilla. And there were no more cupcakes available..."
He began making a cupcake-switching motion with his hands before I even finished speaking.
He laughed hysterically as I asked him how that would make his friend feel.
I thought we were done but James wanted to keep going. According to my children, you don't steal someone's carrot sticks, lettuce, or tomato soup, but chicken nuggets, garlic bread, and cantaloupe are all fair game. I tried to steer the conversation towards a sensible set of boundaries along the lines of "Occasionally, if it is a close friend or your family, it is OK to sneak one French fry or potato chip or similar item off someone's plate." but I think what they left the table with was "If you want it, grab it."
Maybe I'm the crazy one, though. In a house where they eat everything down to the Teflon on my institutional-size skillet and where they sit around staring at each other's plates like hyenas waiting for the lions to leave their zebra carcass unattended, stealing food is an evolutionarily favored skill.
They drank a gallon of milk in two hours today, you guys.
But we have some work to do before they start going on job interview dinners. Or dates.