This is a guest post by my wife, who is much smarter.
I’ve decided that everything is about age. Bob and I got a puppy from the pound cause day-to-day life has been so boring of late. We named her Scout and handed her to our ten-year-old dog, Gus, as if we were giving him a trip to Bimini. She’s about thirteen weeks now and still deals with the world with her needle-like fangs. She’s one of those dogs that cocks her head at you cause she’s trying to figure out what you want from her. After a decade of sweet English Labradors, I’d forgotten how smart puppies act. It’s not that Gus is a dummy, but he’s never cocked his head except to let us know that he has an itchy ear. He’s managed to get what he wants by being pleasant and accepting that he can’t have that squirrel. But, now this little Rottweiler mix of something is reminding me that determined gets what it wants by being demanding.
Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas (not quite sure cause it’s all a jumble of needing evaporated milk and having only condensed) I went to the grocery store to pick up a few of those odd things which exist only for holidays. It was one of those huge places where you can buy a decorative bed pillow or some shoes or milk. They make me nuts cause my brain can buy either shoes or milk.
Anyway, while staring at some shoes I heard the unmistakable first scream of a toddler tantrum. We all know it–a kid in the cart who’s old enough to know the word, ‘no’ but also knows that in a store full of people that a meltdown can turn a no into yes cause that parent is thinking of the sanity of others.
By the time I’d hit the candle aisle which I told Bob many years ago would be an excellent way to convey a pathogen cause we were all prying off a glass lid and inhaling deeply–the tantrum had been raging for about seven minutes and was building into full shriek mode.
I overheard one of the two women already snorting candles say that it sounded like they were going for it. Odd that I instantly knew that ‘they’ was the parent and not the kid. The other woman said I saw him and he’s about three and a half and his mother is ignoring him.
Yes, she was going for it and gonna outlast him and not give in and soon a man joined us as we all began sharing the times that we went for it with our own puppy-child. Some of us admitted to leaving the store at that time cause it’s too embarrassing to see the looks of fellow humans who haven’t raised a child and think that toddlers are real people but smaller and that reasoning works. Some of us had stuck it out in the soda aisles hoping that cardboard and aluminum was an effective sound barrier till the kid was an exhausted heap lying over a bag of potatoes and making those little exhausted whimpers before passing out and drooling all over the lettuce.
But, I’d had help in the form of a woman about the age that I am now who’d known that I was trying to go for it, but I was checking out my fellow shoppers with a look of despair which told her that I was gonna fail and that box of Junior Mints or whatever was soon going to be in his sweaty little hands.
By now there were six or seven carts piled up as we discussed the dilemma of the young mother pushing around the amplifier set at eleven.
It was nice to have a group discussion of fellow adults all sharing the same opinion on one topic because it’s not ever been the way our country was designed to work since the freedom to disagree is sorta the reason you have freedom at all. And we were all of the opinion that she was too far in to back down now, but we were also all losing our collective marbles cause that kid wasn’t giving up anytime soon.
I said will someone watch my stuff cause I’m going in. They all said sure in unison cause it was either leave or lose thirty years so we’d all have ear buds in and notice nothing anyway.
We were all of that age where shopping and personal music was as bizarre a notion as the self-service check-outs. And none of us wanted to leave our little piles of baking powder and food coloring and odd sprinkles just to return later cause not like we had those things in the cupboards. I did thirty years ago but I had more need of sprinkles throughout the year cause of the inevitable, “Mom, I need fifty cupcakes for the bake sale, tomorrow”.
Age changes even the contents of the pantry, but it’s also age which walks bravely into the fray of disintegrating mother and toddler tantrum. She wasn’t hard to find in that big store, I will say that.
She was in her early thirties but probably looked younger when she walked in, and initially said no about whatever. I write, ‘whatever’ because it’s never the thing but rather the battle and he was too old because everything is age and a year younger and he’s still wondering why you’ve brought me to a place full of things which I can have by asking nicely. That extra year is where the ask is no longer the issue but the willingness to accept an arbitrary no is the issue. And she was struggling because she knew that everyone in the store was caught in their own minds between ‘give that little shit whatever he wants so he’ll shut up’, and oh, dear, you’re in too deep to cave now. But, I had my memories of the grandmotherly woman who’d helped me win my battle and thus the forever war of when no means no and just because I said so.
I made my approach to her by creeping by the kid and ignoring him as if he weren’t there which was harder than you think because I could feel my eardrums twitching a bit. I said something of no consequence, but she started to apologize and I barely shook my head no, and she was still lucid enough to cock her head a bit and realize that I was coming to help and not to complain.
The screaming intensified for a moment cause the kid knew he he was close to winning though he’d probably forgotten what, so he immediately sensed his mother’s tiny withdrawal of her previously focused attention on him. A three-and-a-half-year-old knows when they’re being purposefully ignored because they can see the sweat on your brow.
She was one of those mother’s who’d worked very hard for the right to wear those yoga pants and so I talked of yoga. After a few seconds her grip on the cart lessened cause I could see some blood returning to her knuckles and after a few more seconds, the screaming lessened in decibels but not intensity cause he, too, was too far in to roll over easily now. At that point I wished I’d really gone to a few yoga classes instead of looking through the glass of a darkened room in that gym at all those people standing on their heads with hands cupped on steel buttocks while I meandered to a treadmill. But, I can fake talk on a lot of subjects and moved to the back of her so that she’d turn away from him and face me.
By then I was discussing the price of yoga mats and she was nodding as if yoga mats were twitter trend of the day. And like magic the more she stopped ignoring his shrieks and just forgot about them the longer the gasps between hysteria and the more time spent on who’s that old lady chatting up my mother?
After he’d quieted for about two minutes, I turned and said, “My grandsons want Voltron stuff from Santa and do you think that’s a good choice?” He immediately said no and launched into the merits of Avengers of all types versus Voltrons of any sort. He was hard to understand at first because he’d nearly hyperventilated his way into a coma. We chatted about Santa for a few more minutes and I told him that I’d take the whole Avengers thing under advisement because he was a smart kid who made a good argument against Voltron. I said have a Merry Christmas and I gotta go find some powdered sugar and he said it’s that way and pointed the opposite way of my buggy. Cripes, cause now I had to go that way and sneak behind a few people sorting through the hams to get back to the candle aisle.
Most of my fellow shoppers were gone, but one woman was guarding my buggy and said–I too had help the day that I drew my metaphorical line in the sand and went for it. We did one of those lame high fives where we missed our hands cause reading glasses aren’t just for reading anymore.
I passed the mother and her son a few aisles down and darn if that kid didn’t notice that I had no powered sugar. Seriously I mentioned the one thing which I always do have instead of yams or something.
He was very sharp as I suspected because my own one-time tantrum kid went on to get his doctorate in Materials Engineering and Physics. Like my toddler he was fighting the arbitrary nature of the no and not the no itself. It is a difficult thing for some toddlers to accept that ‘because I said so’ is a viable argument. But, they need learn the lesson only once and they only learn it by losing that one battle because losing is as much a part of life as winning.
If you grow up never learning that losing exists then you’ll believe that winning is all there is.
It took a week for our dog, Gus, to teach Scout, the puppy with needle teeth, that he would play but not if she saw him as a chew toy. The more that he snarled and growled and the more she thought it was fun, so he finally learned to jump on the bed and withdraw since she’s too tiny to climb there and once she calmed he’d jump down, but right back up at the first tug on his tail or the one unfortunate incident where she missed his tail and nipped his rectum. Scout won’t be doing that again and he did finally teach her to that tug of war which included nothing attached to his body could be fun, too.
Age is everything and puppies like children learn from the experience of their elders. Puppies win if they never learn how to lose and end up in dog parks on a three point leash and toddlers win if they never lose and end up being president where there isn’t even an argument about the merits of Avengers over Voltron. There’s only the getting of what they wanted from the first time they entered the store and screamed till they got it and thus never learn the arbitrary nature of no. You’d think that a septuagenarian toddler who played ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ at his campaign rallies would know that for a fact. But, since he doesn’t and is making his tantrum about partisanship rather than our joint effort at teaching a very old dog a new trick? Then the discussion isn’t about walls: it’s about yoga.
Originally published at bobmayer.com on January 12, 2019.