I saw a little boy in a restaurant today. He was in his mother’s arms as she tried to order bagels at the till. He wanted cake, and tried squirming out of her arms to get it. When she said no, he shrieked and howled. She was embarrassed, but plowed firmly on with her order, raising her voice to be heard above her toddler’s shouts.
The same little boy needed to go to the bathroom a few minutes later. His mother went with him. There’s a code on the door of this particular restaurant, but luckily, another customer held the door for them. But no, the little boy didn’t want to go in – he wanted to do the code himself. His mother picked him up and carried him in, much to his dismay. She distracted him and calmed him down, ignoring looks from other customers.
When it was time to leave the restaurant, the mother asked her daughter to grab some napkins from the counter. The little girl did so, and her smaller brother decided he wanted to do the same. He stretched up to get one, and a kind customer pulled one out for him. But that was no good – he had wanted to get it himself, so he dropped it on the floor. Another customer tried to help, and that napkin went on the floor too. Now mortified, the little boy’s mother picked him up and carried him under her arm out of the restaurant. She was red-faced but looked like it wasn’t the first time she’d done it.
They went to the playground. The little boy insisted on climbing up the slide, which meant other children couldn’t slide down. His mother picked him off the slide each time, and gently but firmly (and loud enough for other parents to hear) explained to him that the ladder is for climbing, and the slide is for sliding. After six consecutive conversations, the mother took him away from the slide, over to the other side of the playground.
The playground had wooden chips on the ground. The little boy met a new friend, and they began throwing chips at one another. The little boy had better aim than his equally enthusiastic new friend. His mother tried to stop him, again feeling the looks of other parents. Her son was that boy – the one causing all the trouble. She made sure that the parents could hear her telling him over and over not to throw the chips. If he must be “that” boy, she didn’t want to be “that” mother – the one who doesn’t see what her child is doing.
Her two daughters needed to go to the bathroom. They walked up to a nearby café. The mother bought a coffee, because the café just wasn’t big enough to try sneaking into the bathrooms. In they trooped. The little boy insisted that he needed to pee again. He tried to lock the door. He tried to go into a cubicle occupied by another customer. He tried lying on the floor kicking and screaming when he wasn’t allowed to play with the soap. The mother looked like she might need a lot more than coffee to get through the afternoon. The staff looked like they felt sorry for her, but hoped she’d leave soon. And she did – boy under her arm again. Yes, he’s that boy.
But she also knows he’s sweet, and kind, and fun-loving. That he loves making new friends and always wants to play. That he never hurts other children, and is shocked and upset when anyone hurts him. He throws wood chips, not to annoy and not to antagonize, but because it’s amazingly good fun when you’re three. He wants to climb up the slide because we all kind of want to climb up the slide. He wants to pull napkins out of boxes because it looks like it’s the most interesting thing he’s never done before. He wants to put the code in the door because it’s like something from a TV show. And he wants cake, because who doesn’t want cake?
The mom just wants to say sorry to everyone at the playground today – she was the one with that boy.