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I realize I am extremely lucky to type these words: my 4 year old has only had one public tantrum in her life.
I say ‘lucky’ because you can be the best parent of all time – feed them quinoa and carob chips, read all the right books, send them to all the right classes and braid their hair just so – and still end up with a kid that is a holy yelping terror in public.
It definitely helps that as a working Mom I do my very best to avoid taking her with me on errands. I pack in grocery shopping on my lunch breaks. That helps eliminate any meltdowns in Aisle 4 about all the food I won’t buy her. I order her friend’s birthday gifts online so I don’t have to hear “but what about meeee?” wails echoing off the ceiling of Toys R Us.
I’m strategic and careful with kid triggers. It’s served me well. Until that fateful day.
Stella was three and my brother and I took her to a giant bookstore downtown to spend a gift card she had been given. The children’s area in this bookstore is a magical realm. Everywhere you turn – not only every book you would ever want to peruse, but also: Toys! Hair accessories! Crafts! Fake food sets! Games! Stickers! Stuffed animals who whisper “taaaaake meeeee hooooome!”
For your little shopper’s ease there are tiny shopping carts. As a typically clear-thinking adult I obviously had some stardust in my eyes because I let her march that cart along every square inch of the section, piling in anything and everything that caught her eye.
An adult does this when they have a gift card. Gather all the things, and then make the necessary cuts until you have the perfect purchase to hand the clerk.
I forgot she was three. I forgot the words, “we can only choose four things” are akin to saying “we have to set all your toys on fire.”
Her eyes darted from the full cart of colourful and sparkly bounty to me, the cruel giant overlord of her world. She started to make a grandiose gesture of her discontent, with the lungs God gave her and the limbs I couldn’t hold tight enough.
My brother did the mature thing – as he had no direct parental ties to this red-faced beast, he cut and run.
As I hissed after him to “WAIT,” I quickly made the Sophie’s choice of the items in the cart, threw them and the gift card across the counter, and scooped it all up in a sweaty flailing embrace to exit the children’s area.
As we crossed the entire third floor, rode the ancient elevator down two floors and high-tailed it across the bottom floor, her vocal displeasure drew stares and caused other book shoppers to pause, mid-sip of overpriced coffee. I like to think they were impressed at how quickly and gracefully I carried 7 pounds of books, 45 pounds of wriggling injustice and 10 pounds of Mom-shame out of that store.
As the doors closed behind us and my heart rate slowed, suddenly an apparition appeared. Two pre-teen Girl Guides who had been selling their wares outside approached us and offered up a whole box of cookies (free of charge!) to my still sobbing and shuddering snot-nosed kid.
As soon as her hands touched the box, the clouds parted, the sun shone down and her tears dried up.
My brother re-joined us now that he wasn’t being publicly humiliated, and luckily the lesson that day of ‘no good tantrum goes unrewarded’ didn’t stick.
As all wise parents do, I learned from my mistake.
She now accepts and understands when I lie through my teeth, “Sorry sweetheart, that’s not for sale. It belongs to the store. Now, who wants some cookies?!”