Thursday, August 1, 2013

On Little Carts and Being Good

When people I've just met ask how old my daughter is and I tell them two, they'll often get this distant look on their face and say something like, "Oh, you're really in the thick of it."

The "thick of it" apparently means complete and utter meltdowns without warning or provocation. The other day, we were doing a family errand run and my husband took her to the car after about five minutes in the first store because it was clear that she wasn't going to be able to handle it. She locked her knees when I tried to set her in the cart, whined when I told her I couldn't carry her around and shop at the same time, and refused to hold my hand when I put her on the floor. As I explained to her that she was going to have to pick one of these apparently dreadful options, she turned into a puddle of curls and flailing limbs in the middle of the busy produce section. We were done.

I finished the shopping, but we had one more store to go to: Trader Joe's. This is the highlight of my daughter's outings. She has dubbed it the "Elephant Store" because if you find a stuffed elephant hidden on the shelves, you get a sticker. Also, when we go on weekdays, they have little carts.

Caution: Cuteness

Now, I don't know how far removed you are from two, so in case you don't quite understand, this is a big f'n deal. Like, this is what we live for. The fact that they only have the carts on weekdays and my daughter doesn't quite understand how the days of the week work makes it an even more miraculous occurrence. It's like sometimes the gods have chosen to bestow their blessings upon her, and in those moments, I imagine she sees the clouds part, the angels sing, and a tiny row of red carts beckoning to her with all the pull of the Sirens song. 

On this night, as we pulled into the parking lot, she turned off the pouting she'd been doing since being removed from the first store and lit up. "The Elephant Store!" she screamed. 

"Yes. I have to get groceries, but you weren't using your listening ears, remember? So you have to stay in the car with daddy."

Perhaps it is having a rhetorician for a mother and a lawyer for a father, but bargaining skills hit my daughter early and forcefully. "But I'll be good! But they have little carts! But I want a sticker! But . . . but I'll. Be. Good!" 

What can I say? I can't argue with this face. 

"You have to use your listening ears," I warned. "Uh-huh," she said, already pulling at the car seat straps. "And you can't run with the cart," I noted. "Uh-huh." "And you can't run into anyone." "Uh-huh." "And you can't pick up things unless I say so." "Uh-huh. I be good." 

So we go into the store, and there are little carts, and her whole life is filled with a meaning so pure and simple that I have to admit I'm envious. Then, it begins. She takes about four steps per minute. People are trying to shuffle around us in the middle of the aisle. I am frustrated as I try to rush forward to get the last bunch of bananas that aren't as green as a tennis ball. "Hurry up!" I start to say, but then I look down. 

She is so carefully choosing her steps, so cautiously moving her little cart forward, so firmly holding onto the handles. She is staring straight ahead with a look of determination and will. She is going to be good

My heart broke. Here's this little girl who drives me absolutely crazy on pretty much a daily basis. She seems to have no rhyme or reason to her meltdowns, no logic to her fits, no understanding of just how hard she can make the simplest task. But here, watching her struggle against her inner urge to go on a rampage among the strawberries and lemons, I realized something. 

She's two. She's learning to navigate a world that is big, scary, and unpredictable. For God's sake! We don't even know if there are going to be little carts from one day to the next! 

What was I supposed to do? Rush her through the store? Further complicate her world as she was trying so very, very hard to just be good as she had promised? No. We walked, slowly (oh so very slowly) through the aisles, and she waited patiently by my side as I picked up each item on the list. As we went to the cashier, she was careful not to bump into anyone else in line, and she handed each and every item to the woman behind the counter. 

When we got to the car, she took off the stickers that had eyes on them and put them on her own eyes. Smiling at me from the back seat, I thanked her for being so good. 

Photo: Jennifer


  1. Oh my, Michelle you are so patient and kind. This made me tear up! Go you!

  2. Yeah, I have a 4 year old and one of the big things that helps me as a parent is trying to recognize when he's trying to be good. It's hard to be good! It's really hard! And he tries so hard most of the time! Being aware of his limitations and his effort, and the fact that there usually is SOMETHING behind any misbehavior, is super helpful.

    Two has a LOT of super delightful stuff in it. I really liked two.

  3. What a wonderful post. We're also in the thick of it, and E. has just (as in the last two days) developed this annoying hyperventilating whine thing that he's pulling out constantly. I'm hoping it will be short-lived once he realizes it's getting him nowhere.

    Thanks for the reminder about not rushing. I needed that this week.

  4. It's always nice to hear from other people in the thick of it! I believe we'll pull through . . . some day.

  5. There are a lot of delightful moments. Two can be a lot of fun.

  6. I'm not always so patient, but I'm trying to work on it. Thank you!

  7. We are in the thick of it, as well! My two year old (also a ball of curls and energy) has such LOUD (short, but loud and unpredictable) fits, but unlike her brother, at the end she always says she is sorry and asks for a hug...gets me every time! She sure knows my weak spot!

  8. Oh, this was just adorable. I sometimes, these days, hear adults talk about how hard it is for small children to be good because their brains aren't yet developed, & so on; but rarely does anyone point out their experience of the world as you have done here:

    "She's two. She's learning to navigate a world that is big, scary, and unpredictable. For God's sake! We don't even know if there are going to be little carts from one day to the next!"

    Loved it! Thank you. And best wishes to your determined little girl.