At the grocery store this morning we passed by a mother with two loud, bickering daughters, maybe about 4 and 6 years old. The mother kept snapping at them as they hit each other and made a scene. At one point she threatened to leave them with someone at the store. Then she pointed to Isabella who was quietly pushing the shopping cart with me and asked them why they weren’t more like her.
Now Isabella is not the easiest child to take to the store. It’s not that she’s disobedient or noisy; but that she’s very distractable. She wants to look at everything, touch everything. She frequently stops and stares at people who interest her and doesn’t hear me when I try to redirect her. She stops to finger the labels on the shelves, to pick up everything she sees. She’s very good about putting things back when I tell her to and she loves helping to push the cart, but I do have to redirect her about once a minute and it can be quite exhausting.
I try not to judge other parents when I see their children misbehaving. I don’t know if this is just a bad day or what developmental issues or difficult personalities their children may have. But because this other mother compared her children to mine, I started to think of an answer to her rhetorical question: Why is Isabella so sweetly behaved when compared to these girls? I can’t take all the credit. Part of it is surely just a matter of personality. But I couldn’t help but compare the way I talk to Isabella—and especially the way I correct her—with the way this mother addressed her daughters. She was very loud and very harsh. She didn’t seem to enjoy their company, they seemed to be a nuisance to her. I also try to learn from my observations of other parent’s interactions with their children, to copy the good and, when I disapprove, to examine myself to see if I also have the same bad behaviors.
Now I certainly have my off days when I’m hungry or tired, my temper is frayed and I start snapping at Isabella. I was lucky that today wasn’t one of them. I knew this was going to be a long trip with an extended list because of all the stuff I needed to get for the party and so I was prepared for some backtracking and hunting for things I don’t usually buy. I also try very hard to make sure I have a snack for myself before we leave so I’m not hungry, to pack a snack and a sippy for her in case she is, to get to bed on time so I’m not tired, etc. But in general I also try not to raise my voice any louder than I have to to get Bella’s attention. I try to keep my tone gentle, even when I don’t feel patient. I also try to use please and thank you: “Please don’t touch that. Please put that back on the shelf. Thank you, good girl. Please come here and push the cart. Thank you for helping mama to push the cart. Please move out of the way.”
I try to be aware that people are listening and hearing us and that my behavior toward Bella and her behavior in general may help to influence people’s attitude toward children in general. One old man looked at Bella and Sophia and said something like, “You have your hands full,” or no it was, “Never a dull moment at your house.” I smiled and replied, “We’re always having fun.” I think of my children as good company, I enjoy being with them. And I try to treat them with respect, to talk to them as I’d like to be talked to.
The thing is I understand her desire to touch everything, her tendency to stop in the middle of the aisle to stare at people. She’s just two years old; the world is a big, beautiful, new place. She’s fascinated by everything and everyone she sees. I try to name the things she touches, to describe the people she watches. She’s trying to learn about her world and it’s my job to help her do so.
To Bella a trip to the store is an adventure and an educational experience. This morning as we were preparing to leave she recounted to me all she could remember from our last trip: “Go shopping. Get milk. Push the cart. Sophia in the car seat. Run, run. Bananas, orange juice,” etc. All her favorite things.
I hope that when she’s the age of those little girls I can distract her from bickering with Sophia by having her help me with the shopping. My mom used to send me on errands: go get some milk, find the peanut butter. It involved me and I learned how to shop. I became brand conscious and price conscious as she showed me how she decided which one of the twenty jars of peanut butter she bought and why, how to decide which bananas are ripe, and what is a good price for chicken. Most of all, I hope I continue to have fun with her, to enjoy her companionship, and to learn to see the world through her eyes as the marvelous place it is.