Publisher’s Note: As part of our anniversary celebration throughout 2017, we will re-print some of our favorite photos and stories from the past 25 years. These specials are identified with our “25th Anniversary Feature” banner at the top of the page.
Perhaps there is no greater moment of humility, complete with the laser surgery-like removal of all pride and control, than the Grocery Store Toddler Meltdown. The missus and I joined the parenting club a couple years ago, when our son Hambone1 was born. Since birth, I would estimate that 90% of the time, whatever Hambone wants, Hambone gets.
So it should come as no surprise to me when Hambone hollers for a ‘sicle (his terminology of the frozen confection). Especially when I’m pushing him through this magical building where we just fling things we want into our cart and take them home. In his eyes, there’s just a brief pause near the exit where the checkers fawn over the boy and toss all our goodies into sacks, so what’s stopping us from taking everything in this place home? Do we just need a bigger car or what, daddy?
In fact, there’s probably two thousand popsicles in that freezer, and if I’m trying to tell Hambone he can’t have any of them, it makes no sense! I had visions of this moment when I would be face-to-face with The Public Tantrum. In my mind’s eye, it would be like a hostage negotiation: calculated risk with a bit of conciliation and understanding between two semi-rational parties, culminating in a better father/son relationship, all at the expense of a sliver of pride. Easy-peasy.
The next seven paragraphs happened in approximately three seconds:
Hambone is facing me in the little grocery cart crotch-kicking seat. We turn the corner as I realize that I’ve foolishly steered us down the frozen confections aisle. This is my first mistake. There’s absolutely nothing I need down here, but it’s too late to double back. Committed and now compromised, I accelerate and hope the frozen pizzas on the other side of the aisle will distract my cargo.
Once the speed of the shopping cart increases, Hambone instantly becomes aware that a juke is in the works. He haphazardly scans left and right, trying to focus on his surroundings, taking in maybe 25 or 30% of the environment. This is all his keen sense of grocery store awareness needs to make an assessment of his location.
“Can we get ‘sicles daddy?” he asks in his sweet little best-behavior voice.
My second mistake is slowing the cart, even for a nanosecond. This gives the false sensation that the thought has occurred to me to fulfill Hambone’s request. All Hambone knows is, the very second he blurts out his desire, there is an instant physical response (cart slowing) that seems to indicate his wish will be granted. If I say no, I might as well hand him the popsicles, rip them right back out of his hands and throw them on the roof of the store – it’s the same thing.
Here comes my third mistake – it’s something I’m still working on. There’s this slight lull. The calm before the storm. One last chance to just stop the cart, grab the ‘sicles and bail. I know what’s going to happen when I say no. I know Hambone is going to go ‘Rain Man’ on me right here in the store. I scan my mind for the right answer – the perfect solution to the problem. But all I can come up with is the flimsy, unconvincing excuse, “We have plenty of popsicles at home.”
As figured, Hambone freaked. He left me no choice but to extract him, abandoning the cart and bolting for the door. I’m surprised no one stopped me to make sure I wasn’t abducting the child. Between Hambone’s howls, and my nervous trotting toward the car, I’m sure that’s what it looked like.
Once I got his spastic body into the car seat (those joint locks during super-fits are hard to break!), I shut the door and breathed a sigh of relief. It was like when they locked The Hulk in that concrete bunker with the eight-foot-thick safety glass. Yeah, he was totally pissed, but at least he’s in there and not out here, you know?
By the time we got home, Hambone’s brain had delivered some natural Valium and the screaming was reduced to whimpers and sniffles.
Later that day, when his Mother came home and asked how my day alone with our son went, I told her we had a great time. I even told her about the popsicles we enjoyed together out by the pool (see, we did have some at home).
Since Hambone is only two, I’m sure he won’t remember this incident, but I bet somewhere in the deep recesses of his brain, something told him that if he makes a scene in the grocery store, eventually he will get what he wants.
— Greg A. Bruns can be reached at email@example.com.
1To prevent preschool ostracizing, our son’s name has been changed for this column.