The Cast: Ender (the Caught), Myself (the Catcher).
Meaning of Idiom ‘Caught with Your (or one’s) Hand in the Cookie Jar’:
To be caught with one’s hand in the cookie jar means to be caught in the act of doing something wrong or forbidden, especially stealing money from one’s employer.
This idiom is often but not always used to refer to stealing money from an employer and is similar to the idiom caught with one’s hand in the till. It may also be used in a more general sense, similar to caught red-handed.
Examples Of Use:
“I had to get rid of my assistant manager,” said Mr. Roberts, “he had his hand in the cookie jar.”
“He was everyone’s favorite athlete in college until they found out he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, accepting lavish gifts from scouts.”
“I think my bookkeeper has his hand in the cookie jar.”
This idiom is chiefly North American, as the British use the word biscuit instead of cookie, and there is no corresponding British expression. A canister of ceramic or other material used to store cookies has been a tradition in American households and children are usually forbidden to access this cookie jar until given permission to do so. Since cookies are irresistible to children, they are often ‘caught with their hand in the cookie jar’ by their parents. This feature of the American culture, combined with the idea of treats and money both being tempting, caused the expression to be extended to refer to the stealing of money, and also to more general uses.*
Now that that’s out of the way, let us begin, shall we?
My youngest son is graduating high school this year, and while I am proud of him, I cannot help but think of some of the ridiculous things he has done in his short lifetime. Out of my four children, it is he who has been most likely to break the rules and deny it (that last part, ‘and deny it’ is the most important part—my other children have broken the rules, like most children, it’s just that Ender would deny it). While he hasn’t done anything horrible, he has, on occasion, been a little bit of a stinker.
Many years ago, when my children were very young (I think my oldest was in middle school) I was at home when they got home from school. I would be in my studio, doing my college homework or whatever and the older three would come home and do the normal after school things: Play around for a bit, start on homework, get a snack, or a combination of those things (usually the first and third, I would have to remind about the second one). Well, Ender would come down the hall and ask if he could have a snack. Cindy and I would encourage asking, only so that we had an idea of about how much we needed to feed them—at suppertime and the like (jeez, don’t judge).
Don’t get the wrong idea, we weren’t trying to Hansel & Gretal them, nor were we trying to starve them. But kind of keeping an eye on their hunger/food intake let us know how much food to buy and what kinds of foods they were eating—ya’ know, trying to keep them healthy and well. Also, how can they have a snack if the snacks were all eaten and not replaced? So…
So, if the children wanted a snack, they could just ask and I would say, “Sure.” No worries, except someone was stealing cookies.
I knew someone was stealing cookies for a few reasons. One of them being the lack of cookies in the cookie jar. The other reasons I will discuss first, such as: A lack of snacks being eaten.
In our home, we have a snack cupboard. In this cupboard, there are shelves that the snacks and treats are separated within. On the lower shelf: The snacks. The snacks were on the lower shelf so they would be easier to reach for small bodies. Simple.
The middle shelf held treats. Treats could sometimes be a snack, just not everyday—thus the ‘treat’ label. If the children asked for a treat, then I would have to think and recall (or ask) when the last time was they had one. Depending on the variables involved (how recently, how they asked, my mood) I would say yes or no. If no treat, then maybe a snack? Sure, always a snack. Snacks are good. I’m fine with the whole snack scenario. Have I mentioned ‘snack’ enough? Snack, snack, snack. Snack, snack. Snack. Great, now I need a snack. Wait one moment.
Alright, I got a snack. Minion fruit snacks. Mmmm. Sticky-gummies.
Okay, where were we? Ah, yes. My children and their asking of the snacks. Right, so, as I would sit in my studio, down the hall, I would keep track of the children and their activities by audio. In other words, I could hear them. Their chatter and play, the opening of cupboards and the refrigerator, the books opening and closing, and other such nonsense. While I didn’t know what they were doing exactly, I had a pretty good idea. They were good kids, after all. I wasn’t worried.
Usually, it would be Ender that would ask for a treat or a cookie. Now, while I haven’t gone into great detail—none at all—of what my wife and I considered snacks or treats, cookies are unique. They are not quite snacks or treats. Cookies are like the fine, chocolate chip line between snack and treat. This is the grey area.
Snacks are food (don’t say it, I can sense the sarcastic “Duh” from some of you), treats are special foods. They differ from household to household. For us, treats were like Little Debbie cakes and such, Pringles, or Twinkies—no, not Twinkies, those were mine. Snacks were everyday foods. They were apples, muffins, bananas, peanut butter toast, stuff like that. Cookies… Cookies can be either-or. Choclate chip cookies: Snack. Oreo: Your call. Girl Scout Cookies: I shouldn’t even have to explain this one. So, you see the issue?
As a result, the children would need to ask about the cookies specifically. Because the jar that contained them has been the same for years, but the cookies change regularly (as they should).
Now, back the point of the story: Ender would most often come down the hallway connecting the kitchen and my studio, “Dad?”
“Can I have a cookie?”
“Have you had a snack first?”
“Then, no. Have a snack.”
“Then can I have a cookie?”
“No.” Because he didn’t have the snack first! (stop judging me, people) Ya’ gotta have the snack first.
It would be at this point he would slunk back toward the kitchen (I may not have seen it, but I could always hear it, you can hear someone slunk, and Ender’s slunk is definite and louder than most). About the time he would reach the kitchen the noises would change. Subtle, but change they would. I knew something was going on. Kids do that. It’s like a right of passage or something. “What can we do that mom and dad will never know about?” “I know! Let’s [add whatever you like in here].” “YES!” Then they do it. It’s like a silent, reversed hazing directed at the parents.
At any rate, I knew something was going on, and I also knew if it was bad enough, I would get told by someone. So, I wasn’t worried. I have good children. But, as I would go to the kitchen and get my own snacks or treats or cookies (hey, I’m an adult I can ruin my appetite if I want to, stop judging me), I would notice a few things. Not enough snacks would be gone to match what was asked. Treats might be gone too. I didn’t care that much about those, because that meant whoever ate one wouldn’t get one later when the family did—the kids always told on themselves (self-regulation). What was troubling was the lack of cookies.
I have a weird memory for things. And I use it to my advantage. You don’t mess with the cookies.
I began to notice a lack of cookies in the cookie jar. See, I also have a strange eating habit, I have to eat in pairs. Like, two cookies, not one. And if it goes up to three, then I need four. It can become problematic. Sometimes I have to lie to my mind. Like a double cheeseburger is two cheeseburgers. Well, it is (man, the judgment I am feeling). Focus man (that’s for me). I would notice the placement of cookies in the jar after I would take two—or four, but the next time I would go to get more, some cookies were missing. And I know they weren’t just moved about within the jar because nobody does that! Nobody! It’s wrong. Fondling someone’s cookies just to walk away… disgusting.
Well, I began to mentally note where my children were when one of them asked for a snack. Through a process of elimination, the culprit appeared to be Ender. Well, as correct as my suspicion might be, it would be unfair for me to judge and convict without evidence. So, evidence is what I needed. Fortunately, I am Batman, so I had the tech to do it.
Knowing about when my children were going to be home, I placed a toy motion sensor inside the cookie jar. Say what you will about spy toy-technology, Spy Gear made some pretty impressive stuff. Now, all I had to do was wait for the moment of truth. I fully expected it to take a few days—as not everyday cookies would disappear. But I was rewarded for my efforts.
The children arrived home. They began their standard movements. Ender did his as well.
“Dad, can I have a cookie?”
“No. Have a snack.”
As my son moved down the hall, back into the kitchen, I stealthily moved out of my chair and crept down that same hallway (we only have one).
BEE-OO! BEE-OO! BEE-OO! BEE-OO! BEE-OO! BEE-OO! BEE-OO! BEE-OO!
I stepped into the room to see my oldest, Sarah, sitting at the computer and looking down upon her brother (only because he was physically lower, not because she’s snobby), my oldest son, Zander, standing with a glass of milk in hand, also looking down upon his younger brother (for the same reasons as his sister), both in the beginnings of laugher. My youngest son was squatting down, cookie jar lid in one hand while his other was inside the cookie jar, his face showing the entirety of his confusion—magnified.
“Gottcha’.” And I smiled.
Ender was so confused as to why the cookie jar had beeped and how he had finally been caught that he didn’t know what to do. He just stayed in that crouched position (our cookie jar is in a cabinet, low to the ground), hand in jar, confused and worried look on his face. He thought his short-lived life was over. I just walked over, took the alarm out of the jar, took the lid from his hand, and placed it back on top of the jar.
“Next time I tell you ‘No’, you better listen. Alright”
“Alright.” Came the nervous reply.
As I walked away and returned to my studio I overheard his siblings gently teasing him and laughing, “I warned you.” “Dad knows, dude.”
This year, that young man graduates high school. He begins his journey into adulthood. He and I have butted heads as he has attempted to express himself while I have attempted to prepare him for ‘The World’. He is a good-hearted, well-meaning, creative well of joy and imagination. I only worry about him because I have run out of time to teach him and I worry that I haven’t covered enough material. Like a professor giving you a 500-page textbook and you only have discussed the first chapter before the final exam.
He is one of the lights in my life and regardless of how I may come off toward him on the outside, on the inside I am amazed at the man he is beginning to demonstrate himself to be. He is noble, kind, creative, sensitive, fun-loving, reckless, impulsive, and intelligent. He is my son, and I am proud of him.
Congratulations Ender. Well done.
*Source: Idioms Online