The Son Also Rises
I'm sitting outside a fast-food restaurant, and a scene breaks out. It was a juicy little explosion between mother and son. Call me morbid, but I really enjoy that kind of thing. I call it OPP -- other people's problems.
Not that I was looking or anything, but here's an explicit account of what happened.
This particular restaurant had a play area for children. There were ladders and ropes and tunnels and slides and miles of fast-food fun. It's no wonder the mom was having trouble getting her son's attention. She wanted to wrench her boy from paradise and plop him back down in reality. I didn't feel bad for the kid because he was a stark raving brat (something else should be "stark raving" besides madness). I wanted to speak some sense into the kid, but he was spoiled to the core.
"All right, Jimmy, that's enough," said Mom. "You come down from that slide right now, or there's no ice cream when we get home..."
Parents hang the ice cream issue over their children's head all the time. It's used to reward, punish, pacify, and predict their child's behavior. Ice cream isn't a food: it's a parenting tool.
Jimmy wasn't budging because he knew that his mother was herself a soft cone. He continued his game of chase with another boy, undaunted by his mom's threats.
"I mean it, Jimmy. This is my last warning."
The boy was pulling a major Helen Keller. His mother stood there keys in hand, sunglasses on nose, and tough decision to make. Does she keep yelling at her son from the periphery or go in there after him? She must have wondered how the boy had become so mule-headed. Maybe it was that she couldn't decide between using the stick or the ice cream.
"Are you listening to me, Jimmy? This is my last warning."
Major blunder in roundup: two last warnings. Where do you go from there? Parents should only declare last warning when they are prepared to follow up. It's the Roe versus Wade of future final warnings.
Mom changed her tack: "If you don't come down by the count of three, there's no piggyback ride to the car..."
She was growing desperate. If the boy didn't bite on the ice cream, what made her think he'd go for a piggyback ride? Besides, this was the kind of kid who would jump onto a stranger for a piggyback ride if he needed one. So it goes.
"I'm going to count to three, and if you're not out here..."
She started The Countdown. "One..."
Jimmy continued to run around in oblivion.
His mom grew fidgety-mad. Off came the sunglasses. Down went the purse. And without so much as a 2-and-a-half, she marched right into that jungle after the brat. She caught the boy halfway around the tube slide and seized him by the arm. The child let out a wail that echoed in the hills and set birds in motion. This kid could work as an air raid siren at a navy base.
The mom tried to duck the gaze of passers-by as she dragged her son from the premises. The boy continued to scream.
His cry was muffled short by the slam of a car door. I nibbled on my French fry as I watched the drama unfold, now in silence. I wasn't being nosy, mind you, but doing some investigative reporting.
The mother chided her son with her forefinger, but he plugged his ears and refused to listen. She may have had his body, but she'd never have his obedience. At times, the boy held up his arm as if it were broken. He possibly threatened to turn her in for child abuse. And wouldn't you know it, she began to cave in. She didn't want to be the kind of mother who hurt her son. As the two drove away, Mom was making some kind of concession, and I'd bet a pretty penny that it had to do with ice cream.
Raising a child is not easy. It requires a tricky blend of smarts and compassion, discipline and support. I think there should be mandatory child-rearing courses for new parents. We need a license to drive and a license to fish, but any old schmuck can have a child.
If children are rewarded for their tantrums like our little Jimmy, they grow up spoiled and ultimately cut us off on the freeway. We live in the age of the overpermissive parent. I'm not suggesting that we beat our children into submission. Effective boundaries can be established without touching a child. But in addition to love, a child needs to grow up with a sense of consequence. Not "Stop, or I'll say stop again," but immediate, tangible, non-food-related consequence. It forms the foundation of how these little people will conduct themselves as big people.
Mine is not an expert opinion. I was a terrible child and am not doing much better as a grown-up. In fact, I'm more of a growing-up. But just as I know that Keanu Reeves is a terrible actor without being in show business, I know this mother was not doing a good job raising her son. Any time you have to drag someone across a parking lot, it is a pretty good sign that you're not using your words.
On the bright side, the playground finally cleared out and allowed me to jump in and have some fun of my own.