I like to think that I am an independent woman. And I want my children to be independent children, who will then go on to become independent adults. I have always encouraged them to do things on their own, although I will admit to not being perfect in this area. (Case in point: I am writing this on my daughter’s iPod while lying next to my son in his bunk bed so he will fall asleep.) So I think we can agree that I need some work this area.
One way I encourage my kids to be independent is to have them speak for the table when placing orders at restaurants. They’re pretty good at it, and by the time they were five or so they could even pronounce “Cabernet Sauvignon.” I’m kidding – I drink Shiraz, because it’s easier for them to say since it’s phonetic.
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Sometimes I get my kids to choose and pay for their own purchases at stores. Last week the kids and I went to a local bakery for some school lunch supplies. I’ve been going to this bakery since I was a young child, and my children have enjoyed the custard tarts and cheese twists here themselves since in utero. I was waiting in line at the deli and sent my eight-year-old son to the baked goods section with the task of getting whatever bread and buns he wanted for the week.
I could see him there, stretching up on his toes to reach the highest rack. Years of experience combined with trial and error have taught him that the cheesiest of the buns are nearest the top. He had a pair of long silver tongs in his hand and he was choosing the buns he wanted. No one was behind him – no one was waiting and impatient for a little boy to JUST PICK ONE, ALREADY! I could see he was doing fine, following proper tong etiquette, and not bothering anyone. When my deli number was called I moved out of sight, but a moment later he had appeared at my side.
He stood there, quietly. No bag; no crunchy, chewy, delicious cheese twists.
I asked him what happened. I had just seen him at the rack. Were all the twists gone? He pointed at the bakery aisle. He kept pointing, and then said, “She told me to stop. “
There was an older woman in a flower-pot hat standing at the rack. She saw me look up.
I walked over and asked her why she had told him to stop. She explained that she didn’t know what he was doing, and so she made him stop.
Insert “needle scratching a vinyl record” sound effect here.
No. Not cool, flower-pot hat lady; not cool. I calmly explained that my son was doing what I had asked him to, and that unless he was being destructive or disrespectful to person or property, his actions were of no concern to her. She walked away without answering. Then I asked my son to continue getting his buns.
He refused. He was too frightened and thought he had done something wrong.
My kids drive me nuts sometimes, so I can understand that by extension they will sometimes drive other people nuts too. But he wasn’t doing anything wrong. My 13-year-old daughter was once .08 short for an ice cream order – EIGHT CENTS – and the clerk scolded her, saying, “You really should have counted your money BEFORE you came in here.” I did a social experiment and went in a few days later, purposefully short a few cents. You guessed it – NO comment from staff, other than “Don’t worry about it!” I’ve seen my daughter interact with adults before: she makes eye contact, speaks clearly, and is respectful and polite. There was no reason for a clerk to speak to her this way.
I’m sure the ice cream clerk and lady at the bakery are nice people. But for some reason, we think it’s okay to sometimes treat children who are alone in public with a rudeness they don’t deserve. It’s not right, and I’ve told my kids they are within their rights to “politely” answer back. Sometimes a simple, “How am I making you upset?” is enough to offset a misplaced comment.
In the meantime, I want to say thanks to flower-pot hat lady. Because now I’m pretty sure I’ll be sleeping in this kid’s bunk bed forever.
I hope his future partner doesn’t mind my snoring.
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