Learning not to run from life’s disappointments

By Jane Flanagan

Once again I’m reminded how tricky this parenting job is.

Take the incident at a New Jersey shopping mall last weekend. I told Rusty, my 4 1/2 year-old-son, that I needed new sneakers. As we headed into the store, I mentioned that if they had a pair that fit him, perhaps we would get some for him, too.

In the kids section we found the perfect sneaker. The sample shoe happened to be in his size and fit. Unfortunately, however, the salesperson informed us that she was out of stock in his size. The mate to the sample shoe was also missing.

We looked at the remaining three or four styles but there were no “size one’s” for any of them.

And that’s when our pleasant time together at the mall came to an end.

“Why do you get new sneakers and I don’t?” Rusty said, pulling on my shirt as I stood at the cashier’s counter. “I want to leave this store now.”

As we moved onto another shop, he continued to complain. He became so unpleasant that I decided to leave, despite several errands undone.

Once in the car, Rusty let his full feelings fly.

“I want a new pair of sneakers,” he said, sobbing. “You got a new pair. That’s not fair.”

He evoked my sympathy. “Oh, he really is upset, by this,” I thought. I resolved to find him new sneakers, overlooking the fact that he didn’t need them. I was on a mission.

We drove to another store. But it was Sunday and they were closed.

He cried harder. I drove 15 minutes to another retailer, also closed. He continued crying.

Once home, he remained disgruntled and was uncharacteristically rude to his Dad.

The next morning, having forgotten all about the sneakers, I asked him to get dressed.

“Mom, did you get my new shoes yet?” he said.

“What shoes?” I said. “Do you mean sneakers?”

“Yes,” he said, and resumed his complaining.

It may have taken me 18 hours, but, finally, I got annoyed. He was being rude.

One trip to the mall, he doesn’t get something he wants, and he won’t let it go.

And, as usual, I was expending my energy trying to fix it, rather than focusing on the more important, global implications.

I quelled my impulse to pull out the phone book in search of another running shoe. Instead, I began to think. “I am someone who loves him and am willing to go to great lengths to please him. And he is annoying ME. How will this behavior fly with other people?”

Such carrying on may be somewhat acceptable in a not-yet-five-year-old, but it probably wouldn’t be in a six-year-old. And in a 10-year-old, it would be VERY unattractive.

Finally, I began to talk to him.

First, I told him, life is full of disappointments. Everyone gets disappointed every day, and that if he made himself that unhappy (not to mention everyone else) he would be one unhappy dude.

He seemed skeptical.

I also introduced the concept that it’s nice to share in another’s good fortune.

“Rust,” I said, “You should be glad for me. I got a nice pair of sneakers. I’m happy for you when you get a new pair.”

More skepticism.

But on Monday night, I got a surprise.

It was a beautiful evening and Rusty and I were preparing for our evening jaunt.

He rides his bike on the promenade, while I run alongside. Getting dressed to go, I was afraid to put on my new sneakers. I feared the sight of them would ignite his ill will. I even considered pulling out my old running shoes. Fortunately, good sense prevailed.

As Rusty strapped on his helmet, he glanced down at my sparkling white sneakers. “Oh, oh,” I thought, “here we go.”

“Can you run faster in those?” he said.


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