It happens to every mother eventually. The Grand Grocery Store Tantrum.
Today was my day.
“I’m going to do that grocery shop today after all,” I informed Jeremiah. “I need canned tomatoes for dinner.”
“Which kid do you want to take?” Jeremiah had generously had both kids for the morning to give me a little space, and now he understandably didn’t want to be left with both at home while I ‘escaped’ to the grocery store.
“Naomi, get your shoes on, you can come with me.” Miscalculation Number One. Until recently she was hands down the easiest, but her affable nature hasn’t been so reliable these days.
“Naomi, this is a Look-And-Don’t-Touch store,” I reminded her as she fingered the pears. “Look with your eyes but keep your hands to yourself.” She promptly plucked a head of broccoli from the sale display.
“She likes broccoli!” a kind woman exclaimed.
“She does,” I said grimly, “but we have some at home. “Naomi, if you touch stuff on the shelves again, you’ll have to ride in the cart.”
We had only just turned into the cracker aisle when she started filching all the pink boxes. “Sorry Naomi, you’re touching; you’re going to have to ride.” I picked her up and she did her impression of an eel, wriggling out of the cart, protesting loudly. Miscalculation Number Two: The threat of discipline wasn’t enough to command good behavior, and neither was the discipline itself. We’ve entered the tired zone. We’ve gone beyond logic. We’re in Tantrum Territory!
I maneuverered stolidly down the rest of the aisle, holding her squirminess in place with my arm. “Naomi, do you want to choose your pink cookies?” “NnnnOo!” Preschoolers can get a lot into that one syllable word. Deciding we really didn’t need any more cookies, I leaned down to her ear. “Naomi! At the end of this aisle you can have another chance to walk without touching the stuff on the shelves. Do you think you can keep your hands to yourself?” “NNNnnOo!” Alright then.
The end of the aisle finally arrived, and I let her down. She stood there, bedraggled and crying.
“Do you want to walk?”
“Do you want to ride?”
“Well, I’ve got to keep shopping. I’ll be right down this next aisle. Come along.”
“Mommy! Mommy! Moooommyyyyy!” Miscalculation Number Three: it was 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon. The store was full of nice, concerned women and even a few concerned men. As I distanced myself from my dishevelled daughter, I saw a crowd form around her.
“Have you lost your mummy?” A kindly grandma with a cane was leaning over Naomi as her tears flowed.
I grabbed a can of tomato sauce and turned around. “No, she’s mine. She’s not lost. She’s just having a tantrum. Come on, Naomi!” I held out my hand. She yanked hers back. We repeat the scene:
“Do you want to walk?”
“Do you want to ride?”
“She’s tired,” a well-meaning grandfather stated the obvious. “She wants something.”
“Yup,” I say. “She’s just having a tantrum. I’m sure she does want something.” I refrained from starting a tirade with “if she’s tired, what do you think I am?”
A middle-aged woman touched my arm and leaned into my ear. “Good on ya!” It’s the Kiwi way of giving approval, and I felt a fraction better. At least one other person realized that I wasn’t being a horrible mother to leave my daughter sobbing on the floor. I was simply taking the only tenable course available at the end of all my miscalculations—not giving in to the tantrum.
“Well Naomi, you know where I’ll be.” I turned around and headed back down the aisle, this time amidst the troubled audience of a dozen childless shoppers. The wails didn’t abate. I picked up another can of tomato sauce and returned. There was a traffic jam around my child. It was clear that my method of parenting wasn’t working in a crowded grocery store. I scooped her up and sat her, still protesting, on the handle bar of the cart. We marched grimly on.
Turning the corner into the frozen food aisle, I stopped to choose some bread on an endcap. “We need three loaves of bread,” I said.
“Me do it!” Naomi was ready to be back in the action.
“Ok,” I agreed, as she grabbed one package after another. I didn’t care what kind we got. The noise had stopped, as if a switch had been flicked. She skipped ahead.
“Mom, we need pink humus!”
“We already have pink humus at home.”
“Ok! Ooh, these bags are COLD!” She poked at the frozen vegetables, cheerfulness restored.
“Yes, they’re frozen, don’t touch them. Let’s get some cheese.”
“Me do it!” I hoped my fellow tantrum-observing shoppers would see her now. Helpful. Sunny. Normal. We finished our rounds with milk and wine, then queued up to pay. The concerned grandfather lined up behind us, and I could see him eyeing my daughter in her changed state.
“She stopped.” I stated, flatly. “They always do.”
True Calculation Number One: They do (eventually) always stop.