Saskia had a friend over the other day, a six-year-old girl named Katie.* Now and then I overheard snippets of their conversation, and it soon became clear that Katie was much more clever than Saskia. Their play withstood the unbalance, however, because Saskia was never even aware that she was being continually one-upped.
"My dad makes the best pizza!" I heard Saskia say as she and her friend played cards at the kitchen table while Pete mixed up some dough. "It's so good, I eat three pieces!"
"My dad makes pizza, too," Katie responded quickly. "And I eat nine pieces."
"Nine pieces!" repeated Saskia, duly impressed. "Nine pieces! Mommy, Katie eats nine pieces of pizza!"
"That's a lot of pizza," I replied.
They went outside to play, and when her mother arrived at the end of the afternoon, I brought out the little girl's coat. Katie took it from me, murmured something about needing to get something, and disappeared into the house. Five minutes passed.
Finally she emerged from the front door, clutching her coat to her chest. As she walked down the driveway Saskia's most treasured toy, a stuffed kitty named Sophie, fell from the coat. "Sophie!" exclaimed Saskia. "Sophie just fell out of your coat!" Saskia laughed excitedly at the miracle she had just witnessed. Then a hairband fell to the driveway. "And my hairband! My hairband just fell out of your coat!" Saskia shouted delightedly.
"Oh," said Katie calmly. "I guess your mom must have wrapped those up in the coat before she gave it to me." She ran down the driveway and climbed into the backseat of her car. She didn't wave back as they drove away.
I stood in the driveway, trying to distill my reaction. She's six years old, I thought. Maybe she doesn't have many toys at home. Maybe attempting petty theft is a stage some kids go through.
And then I thought of her appraising and removing contents of my home. I thought of how distressed Saskia would have been when she couldn't find Sophie at bedtime. And what gave me an actual pain in my chest was that Saskia was so sweetly oblivious to it all, that she didn't recognize what her friend had done even when the pilfered goods dropped onto the driveway in front of her eyes.
I saw Katie at the grocery store a few days later, and said hello. She didn't answer back, wouldn't even look at me. She knows I'm on to her.
*Name changed to protect the identity of a minor