It's school holiday time. And we forgot to return our school library books last week. I reminded Olle on Tuesday night, but on the walk to school the next day, he suddennly realised he had forgotten them.
After school, when I asked, he said his teacher had told him that it was okay with Mr C, the libararian, for the books to be brought back after the holidays.
But on Sunday night, Olle got up from the lounge to walk into the kitchen, and suddennly burst into tears and ran back to me, sobbing. This literally came out of the blue. He was deeply upset because he had forgotten to take the books back and Mr C might never let him borrow books from the school library again. Between sobs there was the skeleton of a story about another boy in his class who'd been told off for forgetting to bring books back. It's very hard to get exact details with this sort of thing - impossible to know if something sharp was actually said or the mere fact that the librarian reminded them not to forget is enough to cause a guilty conscience and tears.
The tears went on, despite our assurances that the librarian was on holidays and not thinking about the books; that the teacher was correct when she said it was fine not to bring them back until after the holidays. From these vague reassurances we moved on to firm assertions: the librarian had renewed the books. The teacher, who is in Queensland on holidays, has been telling everyone what a wonderful pupil she has at her school in Sydney. No one is cross at him.
Eventually the sobs died down.
But the next evening, the same thing happened. Heartfelt tears again. One minute things okay, the next minute heaving sobs and "oh I wish I'd never borrowed those books".
We went through the impossibility of taking the books back to the school - it was locked. He wanted us to climb over the fence.
Time for strategic thinking. I announced that we would post the books back with a letter.
The next day he reminded me to write the letter. So I did. I told the full story, of Olle's tears and fear that he would be banned from borrowing books because these ones were late back. I signed it and he signed it and then he drew a book and wrote the alphabet with three fullstops.
We've put the books and letter in an envelope in the car and will deliver it to the school office on the first day back. (Postage would cost too much!)
The tears have stopped.
These were the first tears of anguish and regret I have seen in him. I recognised them all too well - that self-flagellatory, if-only-I-could-reverse-time-and-undo-X impulse. Not that I've had many of them in my life, and they are usually about things which to outsiders seem trivial, but which to you seem overwhelming - the sense of being caught out in a wrong move, exposed as a naughty or bad person. It's hard to see my little child developing this kind of human emotion, although I think it's part of getting older. It's not quite guilt, but verging on it. Maybe this is part of the apporach of 'rationality' - the loss of innocence.