Friday, March 12, 2010

Just say "NO!"

It was pretty obvious from the start how this was going to end up.

There were a couple of give aways - the frazzled looking mother, the hyper son, the vibe in the air that was charged with energy - his, not hers.

"Mommy, can I have a some gum?" the little one asked. He's no more than 6 or 7 years old and he cannot reach the brightly colored gum packages high above the conveyor belt at the grocery store. I'm standing in front of them and we are all waiting for the teller who is dealing with the first customer at the check out.

"I don't think so," she replies. Her tone is tired, frustrated, weak.

"But I want some," he argues, now trying to reach past me to the gum. I step away and in my best "Elaine from Seinfeld" moment pray to myself that she will handle this the way she should.

Instead, she stalls.

"Here, can you put this on the belt?" she asks, hoping distraction will work. Sorry about your luck sister.

"NO!!! I want GUM! Please MOMMY!" he hollers and launches into a rapid fire rant of repetition "I want some gum! I want some. Give me some gum Mommy!" From time to time mom manages to squeak out "No." or some other objection, but it's ineffective in that HE DOESN'T HEAR HER.

The lady in front of me at the till turns to look. The cashier glances over and looks away - she's seen this played out dozens of times in a day. She's grateful she's got the the belt and the till to separate her from the hell about to be unleashed.

This exchange goes on for easily two or three minutes. A long bloody time to endure a child whining, begging, bartering and finally, ordering. I can hear him debating with her still as I complete my transaction and leave the store.

Parents are hardwired to WANT to do what their children need them to do. There is no question that it can be really difficult not to succumb to sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks and DIMPLES (I however have had to develop immunity to Dimples - Second Born Son has them and if I hadn't conditioned myself otherwise, we would have been in DEEP trouble years ago! Gramma - my mother - isn't quite as strong and it's sad really...)
But there are times you just have to come from the gut with a deep and forceful "NO." The entire tirade I witnessed would have been avoided with a firm response the child understood. The fact is, he likely hasn't heard "NO" said with any meaning in the past, so he knows that if he keeps howling, keeps pushing, keeps working her over, he'll get what he wants; whether it's the 5th or 10th time because that's what he's done before.

She needs to make eye contact with him, tell him today is not the day for gum because _____ (we are going home for lunch, you didn't eat your lunch, we don't have money for that today, you keep swallowing your gum, you put it in your sister's hair - fill in the blank). He will still protest, so then she will need to follow up with "I understand you are frustrated - if you cannot calm down, we will have to leave the store because this is embarrassing for you." And then, if he doesn't settle down (which he won't for a while because you have to unteach the bad habits over time) then you set down your items at the Customer Service counter, grab your child around the waist and march out. Yes, folks - I've done it - once to each child.

What I haven't shared is that SBS was with me this day. His eyes grew wider with each escalation. He looked at me with an expression that clearly stated "Can you FREAKIN' believe this?"

The Rule of Mouth is that you keep your thoughts to yourself until you get in the car. You just never know when someone is right behind you, or related to the person you are about to discuss - it is a small town after all.

"Did you SEE that kid?" He exclaimed as he locked himself in. "That was CRAZY!"

"Yup," I agreed. "It doesn't look good, does it?"

SBS was prone to temper tantrums, and still has them from time to time - but not nearly as often or a bad as when he was between 4-7 years old. He comes by it honestly. There is footage of me stomping off from a soccer game that didn't go my way as a child - preferring to hide in a cedar hedge to sob in privacy than deal with the frustration I was subjected to. Classy!

But time gives you perspective. My parents didn't coddle me into returning to the lawn and join the rest of the kids. I don't/didn't entertain SBS' meltdowns.

If Grocery Store Mom wants to preserve her sanity, she'll learn how to say NO, and quick!

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