We were checking out at the grocery store last week when my toddler spotted the gum kiosk near the register. Seeing that I had already bought a package of chocolate-covered pretzels, gummies and squeeze yogurts, I vetoed his persistent pleads for a pack of minty gum.
I was resolute in my decision. I had three kid treats in my cart and three half-packs of gum in my purse. There was no need to buy more.
I was wedged in line between a young lady who appeared to have no kids and in front of an older lady I thought might have raised a couple kids of her own.
It was a moment all moms have had. You know the tantrum is coming and there’s no turning back. Your child has made his intentions clear and you have made your decision apparent… and one despises the other.
I made the mistake I tend to make when I’m in public and a meltdown is brewing. I met eyes with each of the women I was in between in line. I gave a sympathetic smile – a non-verbal apology for what I knew was coming next.
“But I want it,” Carson said in a loud, gruff command.
And with my most tolerant sounding response, I said, “If you would like gum, I will give you a piece of the gum I have when we get in the car, but we are not going to buy that gum today.”
It was late, definitely past the time at which Carson needs a nap each day but never takes one. It was close to 2:30 p.m., the time in which I normally spend with him at home, quietly reading books or watching a kiddie show – anything I can do to encourage my energetic 3-year-old to rest his little body. I knew I was pushing it by going grocery shopping that late in the day.
Carson wouldn’t pipe down about the gum and after his ignored demands for gum came tears. This was no colossal temper tantrum, just a very sad cry for gum. A child who wanted his way, and was so tired that he didn’t care if the fight were about putting on his shoes, the color of the sky, eating broccoli, or buying minty gum.
His sobbing got louder. So loud that the lady behind me whom I was certain had grown children of her own turned to me and said, “Just buy him the gum.”
The shock of this comment drowned out the crying and made me instead focus on the items in her shopping cart. She must certainly have at least one of her two grown 40-something kids living at home with her if a wee-little cry for gum would cause her to cave. I was looking for evidence.
I shot back very politely, “If I agree to this, how will I ever say no to the $100 remote control helicopter he eyes when we’re shopping for someone else’s birthday present?”
I smiled and turned my direction and noticed Carson had stopped crying. Did he stop because someone jumped to his defense? Did he stop because he knew I had moved on and his pleas for gum weren’t my focus anymore? Did he stop because he actually thought he would get the gum?
I believe he stopped because he knew the crying wasn’t getting him anywhere. My decision against buying the gum wasn’t because I didn’t want to shell out another buck for gum. It was partly because I had already bought him a few treats and partly because I knew he would hate Altoids gum – I do! There comes a time when enough is enough. No means no. And no amount of crying is going to change that. Whether it is with gum, one more ice-cream cone or that expensive helicopter in a toy store.
This week a sports story on this very topic caught my eye. In fact, I may have just tossed the gum into my cart to avoid the whole incident if I hadn’t seen this story. But instead it made me a little stronger in my convictions.
It was the story of a toddler who was seated next to a newly engaged couple who caught a foul ball thrown into the stands at a Texas Rangers game. The toddler leaps up with his dad in an attempt to catch the ball, but the ball lands in the glove of the man seated next to them. A very exciting experience for both pair of spectators, but only one was going home with the ball and it wasn’t the toddler.
The toddler burst into tears, as any toddler would, but the couple with the ball isn’t aware of this. They go on to embrace the excitement, posing for pictures and verbally recounting their experience to one another.
But it was the sports announcer -- the third party like the lady in the grocery store -- that gets involved calling the couple “very cold” for not giving the toddler the ball.
Don’t these people know that sometimes a child needs to learn that not everything goes in their favor? That there are limits? That you can’t have every pack of gum or helicopter that you want in a store… and you certainly cannot have a baseball that somebody else fairly caught just because you’re crying over it? Sometimes disappointment can teach a lot too.
If that Texas Rangers toddler fan is anything like my toddler, a hot dog, an airplane or another diversion would escort him away from his need for that baseball. Because we all know that after five minutes, he’d be over it anyway... Or asleep in the backseat of the car with minty Altoids gum melted for life on floor mat of my car.
UPDATE: I read that the Texas Rangers plan to provide with toddler with a Rangers jersey and a baseball signed by the team. No word on if the lady in the grocery story plans on buying Carson a tin of Altoids gum.