Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Else Are You Looking For, Little Guy?

Image found here. 

A few days ago, I found myself in the candy aisle of the Dollar Tree store. 

Imagine that. The candy aisle. Just browsing, you understand.

As I stood there debating whether to take home the gummy bears or the Snickers candy bars (the Snickers won), a little four or five year old boy raced up the aisle. He was followed by a young woman who looked very tired and very pregnant. The blonde haired little guy tugged at his mom's t-shirt and waved a cellophane bag of brightly colored gum balls in the air. "Mom! I found 'em! I found 'em! I've been looking for these for my WHOLE LIFE!" he shouted.

I chuckled. Now that's one of the cutest things I've heard a kid say in ages, I thought. And certainly one of the best arguments ever for buying candy.

"Put that down!" said the mother angrily. "I'm not gettin' you nothin'. We can't afford it."

The little boy looked briefly disappointed but not surprised. He circled his mom's shopping cart continuing to chatter. It seemed that he had heard that response before.

I took a dollar out of my purse and walked toward the little boy. I bent down and handed him the bill while looking questioningly at his mother. "Here. Go buy what you've been looking your WHOLE LIFE for!"

The young woman reluctantly nodded her permission to the child and shrugged her shoulders. "Take it. But I didn't give it to you, remember", she said crossly.

"Gramma!" he shouted as another woman walked up to the pair. "Look what that GIRL gave me!"

Girl. Hah!

I quickly pushed my cart around the corner and strolled through the store while listening to Gramma explain to the little boy that he could only have one thing - but that one thing could be anything in the store. Anything. Little Boy squealed with excitement and raced between the toy and candy aisles.

So: If anyone posts a "Wow what a wonderful thing to do, Julia" comment regarding this, I swear I'll delete it.

Because I didn't feel wonderful at all.

As I headed for the cashier, I felt incredibly sad. I don't know if this mom actually didn't have a dollar to spare. I don't know if Mom was just having a really bad day. I don't know if Mom was worried what someone else would think when Little Boy came home with candy. What I do know is this child is accustomed to being treated by his parent as though he didn't deserve a dollar's worth of treats, which seemed to me one of the most tragic situations that I could imagine.

I left the store helplessly wondering if I should have given that mom a stern child-rearing lecture. (Yeah. Inappropriate, I know...). Or given her money to buy groceries. Or the phone number of our church's food pantry and gas voucher program. Or the number of a domestic abuse hot-line.

But I didn't do any of those things. What is wrong with me?

And us?


Leslie at SugarAndSpiceADK. said...

Julia, I had a similar experience in our local Wal Mart the other day....a mom a few aisles over was screaming at her toddler, who was standing up in her shopping cart..and then proceeded to yell at her, "would you SHUT UP?" It was everything I could do to make myself stay put and not call Social Services on my cell phone...your post made me sad, but, at the risk of being deleted, YOU DID THE RIGHT THING!!!

annie said...

How sad that there are so many people who want children and can't have any, and then there are those who procreate and physically/mentally abuse their children and don't appreciate what a gift they have in their lives. That woman could have many problems in her life or none at all, but whatever she is going through is not the child's fault...she's the adult here. And you did do the right thing! It's a very delicate line to trod in these situations.

Laura said...

I also think you did a right thing, though I won't say "wonderful" because there isn't really a guaranteed wonderful thing here. You did what may have been the only thing you could have done in that situation.

If she's already trying to decide between food and medicine and rent, for example, she may really not have had that dollar for him. And in that case, giving him the dollar was wonderful but think how awful she must feel having to weigh a dollar of fun against necessities.

No, her tone wasn't right...but as you say, she maybe didn't have a dollar to spare. Maybe she hasn't in months, or years. Any day in the store is a bad day at that point. I'd love to think we're always gentle and kind with our kids when we're frustrated and have to disappoint them again, but ... people are human, alas. Is the financial situation something she's explained to him, patiently and lovingly, so many times that she's given up on his understanding it?

Or is she just sour and unloving? That's possible, too...and certainly her "remember I didn't give it to you" is unlovely. On the other hand, she didn't tell him not to take it or get mad at you, and perhaps she was thinking about what her husband might think ("you wasted money on THAT?") when she got home, or that her son might expect her to buy him something at each visit in the future, or....

It could be anything. And there's more you could have done, but to pick the right thing, you'd have had to know what the "anything" was. If her money is really that tight, the church's food pantry phone number might have helped. If her husband gives her almost nothing to spend, then perhaps the domestic line. If she COULD have afforded it and is just that grouchy, maybe the lecture (but probably not) or a reference to a social services agency. If she was just having a bad day...then maybe any of those things would have just made it worse.

I really, REALLY wish life came with a "here is the best thing you could do in this moment" label.

It doesn't, which sucks. But I think you did a right thing, even if you didn't know what the best thing might be.

Amy Junod said...

After some quiet thought about similar experiences like this I've had myself, I've come to this conclusion. You may never know what simple act of kindness might be the difference between becoming hardened or hopeful. You just never know what a cool thing that was for the little one.