This was ugly. I am not proud. I am not sure who had the bigger tantrum: my 7-year-old son or me. He had a $10 gift certificate for a store that focuses on educational toys. He was very excited to go and spend it, and I was curious to go into a store that I had driven by many, many times but had never entered.
His face was lit by a huge smile as we walked in the door. This place was awesome! It was huge and full of fantastic games. Not to rip off Dr. Seuss, but there were puzzles, games, and whiz bangs a-plenty. There were instruments, magic wands, planets, and Yetis. The shelves were piled high with wonderful things. You couldn’t move your arms without knocking something cool off of them. My son was drawn by the magnetic pull of the Lego section and immediately went to search for his current favorite action figures. He looked and looked but they did not have the specific character that he wanted. A bit deflated, he continued looking for something else. That is when things began to break down.
“What about this cool magic kit?” I asked.
“Nope.” He replied.
“Oohh…a pen that writes with invisible ink!” I pronounced, shaking the package in front of him.
“Spirographs!” I tried.
“Do you like this robot?”
Now we moved on to nonverbal exchanges. I would hold out a solar system wall kit. He shook his head at me. And so on. I didn’t even bother mentioning the hundreds of puzzles or books that they had because I knew that they were a no-go.
It was at about this time that I began to feel the knot rising in my throat. Then my shoulders tensed up. I think my ears were starting to turn pink and burn. When I did talk, my voice had shot up an octave or two and the sentences were getting shorter and shorter. Then he told me that he just wanted to go because he didn’t “see anything he liked.” Uh oh, I thought. Here it comes…
“You don’t see anything you like? All of these awesome games, puzzles, books, toys and kits and you don’t see a single thing you want so you’d rather walk out with nothing?” There’s a small chance that this was shouted. I’m not sure. I did notice a couple of nearby parents scoot their kids quickly away. Could have been unrelated though, right?
This is when his ears began to turn pink. You know how ski jumpers look when they’re flying through the air? With their necks out and their arms straight at their sides, hands clenched tightly into fists? That’s what he did. Again, an “uh oh” popped into my head.
“Fine!” He shouted. He took a deep breath and then continued. “Let’s just throw this gift certificate away then because I don’t want anything!” That last word “anything” was shoved by his tongue through clenched teeth. I think he was shaking. As I said in the beginning, this was not pretty.
We endured a silent car ride home. I put the gift certificate away and we let the afternoon roll on and time be the peacekeeper that we needed. The argument has been forgotten and we have both moved on. But I can’t stop thinking about why this was so upsetting to me. It should not have been an argument, much less escalate into something this bad. Why did this simple shopping trip make me so mad? I also began to realize that I had driven by this store dozens of times and never stopped in. I think I knew that it would upset me.
You see, I really value education and school. When I imagined being a mom, I had in mind snuggling in and enjoying books and puzzles with my kids. I assumed that if I did the right things as a mother that I would automatically be able to make them love those things. Well, it hasn’t really worked out that way, and when I bump up against that wall, I find myself very frustrated.
I assume that it might be something like those parents who freak out and scream at the referee at their child’s sporting event. I have always wondered how they could behave that way but I think that this shopping trip has shed a tiny bit of light on their particular lunacy for me. I don’t really care about sports but I do care about school and smarts — so you see my parental tantrum in an educational toy store.
So I will try to take a step back and allow both of us to grow up a little. Clearly, my shouting did not help him choose the kind of toy that I had hoped he would. I need to let go and allow him to get there at his own pace. He’ll get there. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Right? Evidently, he’s not the only one who has a lot of learning to do.
Stephanie Olson is a mother of two boys who lives and writes in Seattle. She believes her golden rule in parenting “Just wipe it off on your pants!” will be her epitaph someday. It has gotten us through pretty well thus far! Read more of Stephanie's work on her blog, Ma Swell Vie.