(Coldstone Creamery’s Toppings Tray)
It happens everywhere today…parents coaxing their children to decide from a sea of possibilities: “Do you want the coconut cream custard with the orange-zest jimmies, topped with……”Or do you think you’d prefer Moosetracks with a dollop of ………., under a bed of sprinkles?”
The child stands in dazed wonderment, searching the glass case, gazing at gelatos, sorbets, low-fat yogurts and industrial-strength ice cream, alongside the jars of jimmies, M&M’s, wondering what he should order, while the rest of us want to scream out: “Whatever happened to vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry (as choices)?”
If the young child acts indifferent, why wouldn’t he? He’s confounded by the sea of posssibilities and sets of eyes all trained on him…the others in line, the sales clerk, onlookers… He mistakenly feels he is the center of everyone’s universe, and he really doesn’t want all this attention…All he wants is any iced confection on a stick.
But every day parents participate in this insanity, while the rest of us look on, silently complicit.
A few months back, my husband and I stood behind a child and mother in line at an ice cream vendor’s. The mother was asking the child which flavor she preferred of a list Mom ticked off, and when the little one demurred at several, even making a face to heighten her dislike, the server remarked: “If I made faces that way, my mother wouldn’t buy me any ice cream.”
The chastened mother offered: “Well, I probably wouldn’t either but then, if I hauled her out of here, crying, there’d probably be someone reporting me to a child welfare agency.” I told the young mother not to worry: If she did such a thing, we’d recommend her to head up a “Good Parenting Committee.”
But this episode made me think of the predicament today’s parents face. They suspect others fault their child-raising skills, at every juncture; and because they fear coming across as abusive in the act of setting limits, they don’t parent. Then, too, they often effect an attitude of being totally solicitous to their child’s every whim… engaged… enjoying every moment… no matter what the reality.
At Nordstrom’s the other day, I witnessed a young mother and her 3-year-old son, in a nearby booth, having lunch. The mother continuously interacted with this small child for the entire time we were there. She coddled him, stroked his hair, and pulled fractured conversation out of him, while he, in between turns at his grilled cheese sandwich, traced the sockets of her eyes (with his greasy little fingers). The piece de resistance was when he backed up and proceeded to run the extent of the upholstered bench into her (that had to hurt), while she smiled. He did it over and over again.
This child-centric situation even extended to the waitress who high-fived the youngster each time she swept by, no doubt adding to his perception that he was, indeed, the star of this particular universe. When Mom got up to leave, I noted her Pippy Longstocking attire, with her entire outfit a perky and bright discordant mix of colors. She was animated, had enormous energy, and put an upbeat face to the world. I wondered what happened when the lights went down.
Many years ago, on a Saturday, I took my 2 daughters out for breakfast. The day was the rare occasion we got to relax, since they had no other obligation of school, church, or seasonal sports. A family of two adults and three children (ages 8, 6, 4) came in and sat in a booth across the aisle. There were the usual antics upon kids’ acclimating to the environment: they jostled one another for position and elbows flew, while the parents appeared to retreat into their own world.
Finally, breakfast arrived and it got eerily quiet.
At that point, the oldest child took his fork, loaded it with a piece of soggy pancake, brought it back, catapult-style, and let it zing. It hit its mark, the forehead of his father, where it bounced off, leaving a sticky residue. The father’s response?: “Now, Matt, that wasn’t very nice.” The kids exploded in laughter, their mother remained mute, while we sat mesmerized, in disbelief.
It was a stunning showcase of familial dysfunction, characterized by children who had no respect for their parents and adults who’d long ago ceded responsibility for disciplining their kids–at least in public. They had simply never learned: If parents don’t stop at the jimmies (and set limits), they’ll eventually wear the pancakes (and so much more).
Biddy applauds parents who establish clear boundaries of acceptable behavior in their children–all the more difficult in an era that seems to discourage such. They’ll be the winners ultimately, for their children will be welcome….at anyone’s table.