Every once in awhile, I run across a child I would like to throttle. Or to quote a customer, “That’s the reason they invented birth control.” In more rational moments, I know it’s the parents I want to go after. So I created my version of “Crime and Punishment.” Unlike that story (for the three of you who have read it), my penalties are not intended to cause any actual harm.
Snow is falling an inch an hour; there’s already several inches on the ground. The schools are closed. The roads are a mess. A woman comes in with her two children to do her weekly shopping. There’s a reason the schools are closed, and you are the only customer in the store. Penalty: the next two times you are late for work, your car won’t start. No one will come get you because the roads are so bad.
You have brought your child shopping. She is old enough to enjoy the idea of shopping with mom (unfortunately, every time I’ve seen this it’s been a woman). However, mom is on the phone with a friend discussing another friend or talking about what they will be doing later. The woman is so focused on getting her groceries and talking on the phone that the child is totally ignored. You are treating the child like she is just one more task for you to handle. Penalty: the next time you are out with your friends, you lose your voice. After a little while, they pretty much forget you are there.
You have brought your child shopping. You see an old friend that you haven’t seen since the soccer game two days ago. (I know this because one of your topics of conversation is that game.) You and the friend start talking about various things. Time starts to go by. Before you know it, you’ve been talking for ten minutes. While your child is standing around with nothing to do. Penalty: at the next soccer game it’s raining, your friend had to work, and your phone won’t work, so the only thing you have to do is actually watch the game.
You are shopping and concentrating on what you are looking for, not paying any attention to the child. The child is nagging about something. You continue to shop. You do not address the child to find out what she is trying to tell you. Penalty: get home and realize that your child was trying to tell you that you forgot to get the milk that you needed for dinner.
On the other hand – you are shopping and your child is nagging and whining about nothing or being told that you won’t buy something. You ignore them, hoping they will stop. The rest of us have to listen to them because you won’t address the issue. Penalty: you’re locked in a room full of howler monkeys for an hour. Extra time: If you escalate the situation by allowing them to scream or shriek without addressing it, you will be with the monkeys for two hours.
The child wants to help. You tell him he can get the milk. He gets a gallon of milk out of the cooler. He’s not strong enough to hold onto it and drops it so the container breaks and there is milk everywhere. The child is devastated. Small children need to be given tasks you know they can do in public. They don’t know the rest of us think the parent is the idiot, not the child. Penalty: when you decide to take a yoga class, you discover the night of the first class that your outfit makes you feel like a cow. The only spot is in the front, and you spend the rest of the class wondering if everyone thinks you have a big butt.
The child wants to help. You tell him he can get the string cheese. He brings back the wrong brand. You tell him you want the kind you always get. He goes back and gets the right brand, but the wrong type. You tell him you want the sticks not the strings. He looks at the cheese he’s holding that says “string cheese”. He looks at what you are pointing at, and it says “cheese twists”. He’s frustrated and so are you. Penalty: your boss invites you to an important dinner meeting with a client at a French restaurant. You are sure you ordered stew; the waiter brings you a cow brain.
You stand in front of a cereal display with your child. You ask the child which type of cereal she would like you to buy. She tells you a name. You tell her that she doesn’t like that kind. She tell you that she does. You tell her that she doesn’t like that, she likes another kind. She tells you she doesn’t like what you are holding. You put it in the cart anyway. The child can’t figure out why you asked her opinion in the first place. Penalty: you go to get your hair colored. You tell the stylist that you would like to be medium-blonde. When she is finished, she tells you that she decided to make your hair deep auburn because she knows you will like it better.
Christmas Bonus Situation – You’re tired. Your child is tired. The child is crying. You are snapping at him. You can’t remember what you want to buy. You tell him that if he doesn’t stop crying, you’re going to take away all of his presents/he won’t get the special toy he wants/etc. You are not making the situation better. A child who is that tired is not going to respond to threats. Penalty: your company is having a holiday party for a customer. It is after work, and you don’t want to go. You have a million things to do, and you don’t really know most of the people anyway. The boss tells you that if you don’t go, it will be written up for your file, and you will not be eligible for the promotion you want.
Now all I need is the howler monkeys and a genie to make the rest of it happen. Oh yeah, and a video camera to see if the parent’s expression matches the kid’s.