The other day I was shopping at a large supermarket and happened to go down the frozen foods aisle, past the endless freezers containing every imaginable flavor, shape and size of ice cream. I rarely buy. Rather I am like a tourist in a museum – gawking at wondrous objects that I know I can’t take home with me.
But I do like to glance – in case by some miracle, food technologists have come up with a no-fat, no-sugar, melt-in-your mouth ice-cream that makes your taste buds tingle with joy – but has fewer calories than a leaf of lettuce.
Suddenly, the furious screeching of a boy about three-years old, ensconced in a shopping cart shattered my sweet daydream. His shrieks were directed at his mother, with him demanding, not asking, that she buy a particular ice cream novelty. She said “no” in a rather noncommittal voice and ignored him as she looked around at the various offerings in the freezer. Sensing defeat, he upped the volume and howled even louder for the ice cream he wanted.
I was torn between hurrying out of that section of the store to save my hearing or covering my ears with my hands and sticking around to see the end result of this tug-of war.
This boy was blessed with a set of lungs any self-respecting chazzan would envy, and he kept up his high-pitched whining. His mother still kept her back to him as she rummaged through the freezer.
I marveled that none of the employees came running to see the cause of this explosion. Perhaps then the mother would have been motivated to turn to him and in a very firm voice tell him, “NO, be quiet!” instead of allowing him to disturb the peace.
But she did not do this. What she did do, to my horror, was make a face, take out a six-pack of some kind of ice cream bar- obviously the one her son wanted – and put it in the cart. She then proceeded to share her concern with him that, “Daddy is going to be angry” at her for purchasing this ice cream because it was so expensive. After “explaining” to her toddler why it was not a good idea to make this particular purchase, she then asked him if it was OK if she put the item back.
When he looked at her blankly, she repeated her logical argument regarding the ice cream novelty. It seemed that the adult was trying to reason with the child, explaining why it was not fiscally sound to buy the product and was asking for his consent to allow her to do what she knew was best – and not buy it.
It seemed she believed, or at the very least hoped that a pre-nursery-age child would see the logic of her plea – that buying a less costly substitute would be good for the family’s bottom line and shalom bayis – and consequently the child would change his mind and “permit” her to put the item back in the freezer.
But of course he didn’t. He was a toddler who wanted this particular ice cream. No doubt he had been treated to it several times – perhaps at Bubby’s or an aunt’s, and having become aware of the existence of this wondrous treat, would have no other.
I stood there feeling very, very sorry for her. She was facing a long arduous journey on the road of life- because she was allowing her child to do the navigating.
I debated whether or not I should tell her she was making a tremendous mistake, one that if it was the rule, rather than the rare exception, would come to haunt her in the future.
I wanted to tell her that of course it was less physically and emotionally draining to give in to a child’s tantrum and gain his good will, but that ultimately resorting to “the easy way out” could eventually lead to a “no way out” with an immature, spoiled and socially dysfunctional teenager/young adult, who expected immediate gratification of not only his needs, but his wants.
He would go through life with an emotionally stunting “es kimpt mir” attitude, a crippling sense of entitlement, expecting his whims and demands to be addressed forthwith.
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