“You need to eat your ice cream before you go play”

Recently I stopped at Starbucks with my 3 kids to get myself a cup of coffee. There was not a drive-through at this particular Starbucks (I will admit I never fully understood or appreciated the drive-through concept before becoming a mom. Now I find myself wishing all kinds of places had drive-throughs). The lack of drive-through meant dragging my 3 kids into the store with me which usually isn’t much fun. However on this particular day I decided the hot, sweet cup of coffee would totally be worth it. In fact I decided I would order two cups of coffee; one for myself and one for a friend we were meeting at the park after this “quick” coffee stop.

I was holding 22 month old Isaiah when it was my turn to order. He kept repeating the word “Hot! Hot! Hot!” while pointing to the cups. I knew exactly what he meant. I decided the best course of action was to expidite the transaction, get back into the car, distract him with something (probably a snack), and move on to our next destination. However the cashier wanted to be “helpful” so she says to me, “Does he want a cup?’

I replied, “No, that’s okay. He’s fine.” Of course he’s still loudly saying “Hot! Hot! Hot!” while pointing to the cups.

“Are you sure? I don’t mind. He can have a cup”, she presses.

I decline again wishing she would drop the whole cup thing and just let me pay. “Hot! Hot! Hot!” he continues.

I know she’s thinking she’s being helpful and probably wondering why in the world I won’t just let him just have a cup? According to her he clearly wants a cup…and so she gives him one. For a moment he stops the incessant, high pitched “Hot! Hot! Hot!” and the cashier is momentarily satisfied with her ability to remedy the situation. However the peace lasts literally for a second once he realizes there is nothing actually IN the cup. Now he’s mad. The “Hot! Hot! Hot!” goes from tolerable, background jabber into a full-blown meltdown. Cries of “Hot! Hot! Hot!” are now accompanied with huge, sobbing tears.

During this whole exchange I am also trying to keep my other two boys from touching everything, playing tag in the store, and so forth. Then they notice their little brother is holding a cup.

“What did Isaiah get?” “Can we have something?” “I want something too!”. They are jumping around me all excitedly.

I explain, “It’s just water guys.”

“We want a cup of water too!”

“I have your water bottles in the car”.

“Hot! Hot! Hot! Hot!”

I just want to get out of there as fast as possible. Back in the car. Where they are all contained in their carseats. Where I have access to my bag of tricks; snacks, drinks, music, books, heck a piece of gum…whatever can help restore calm.

Shuffling us all across the parking lot, loading everyone back into the car, with Isaiah screaming and thrashing about in my arms all while balancing two hot cups of coffee was less than pleasant to say the least. Getting Isaiah buckled into his carseat was even less fun. I figured it was best to make the cup disappear since it wasn’t actually what he wanted. But when I took it, he got even more mad. I gave him the cup back, closed the van door. And took a deep breath. I took my time walking around to the driver’s side door, enjoying the brief silence.

Shortly after I started driving, Isaiah drops his cup. When you are nearly two years old and already in a delicate emotional state, dropping a cup while contained in a carseat is a major crisis. At least it appeared to be based on his reaction.

Oh, that cursed cup!

After a 10 minute drive full of lots of unhappy noises, we arrive at the park….ahhhh! I am so happy to see the colorful climbing structure. I am really looking forward to drinking my cup of coffee, chatting with my friend, and watching the kids happily play.

When I hand my friend her drink, I explain to her the scenario that happened at the store. We discuss how things often look very different from the outside view of strangers. See in the cashier’s mind my son wanted a cup and the easy solution was to give him one. However what he actually wanted was hot chocolate. He had recently had some from Starbucks and apparently really, really liked it. Now on some days, I may say “yes” to a request for hot chocolate. However on this particular day I didn’t want the kids to have hot chocolate. One, it’s really expensive. But more importantly we were going to an event later that day where there was sure to be a lot of sugar around and so I didn’t want them to have sugar that morning.

My friend shared a related story with me that occurred at her daughter’s preschool. They were at a holiday function where ice cream was being served. One little boy was sitting at a table with his mommy and asking to go play. The mom was saying to him “you need to eat your ice cream before you go play”. My friend thought this seemed a bit odd…in fact she personally would have gladly chucked her own daughter’s enormous bowl of ice cream if she wanted to play instead. However this mom was adamant her son finish his ice cream…or at least take a few more bites. Now this would have appeared to make more sense if it were a huge bowl of broccoli that the boy was protesting, but ice cream?!? My friend was puzzled. I would have been too had I witnessed this exchange.

A few weeks later my friend discovered that the boy protesting his ice cream has significant feeding issues and getting him to eat anything was a constant struggle. In fact that was one of the primary reasons he was in the developmental preschool….to work on goals related to eating.

This story highlighted something important for me: That we never really know what other moms are dealing with. Moms love their children dearly and often have their child’s best interest in mind…even when on the surface it doesn’t make any sense to us. Like the cup in the coffee shop. Or the bowl of ice cream.

It’s all together too easy to judge a mom’s actions or reaction to her child, when we actually don’t have all the facts. Let’s forgo judgement and instead assume that each mom is reacting to her child out of a place of genuine love and to the best of her ability in the moment. Let’s put our own egos aside and accept that we don’t have the magical solution for other moms…If she would just say yes. If she would just be more gentle. If she would just be more firm. If she would just provide boundaries. If she would just be more patient. If she would just…fill in the blank. I admit I am guilty of this for sure!

Keeping the ice cream story in the back of my mind, I aim to look at other moms’ interactions with their children with an openly compassionate heart…and a soft, empathetic smile on my face to convey that I get it: This mothering gig can be hard sometimes… but I trust you know what your child needs right now…and sometimes that is a big bowl of ice cream!

-Sarah

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4 Responses to ““You need to eat your ice cream before you go play””

  1. Karen M. says:

    Beautifully written Sarah.

  2. Melanie Johnson says:

    I loved this Sarah! I was at Sam’s club yesterday and treated Zander to lunch there after he behaved well while we were shopping. I purchased his food and bought a pop for myself. As I was filling my cup, some 16 year old punk kid said “you shouldn’t let your kids drink that, it’ll give them diabetes”. It took everything in me to bite my tongue!! While I knew Zander would probably get a few small sips of my pop, it wasn’t for him, it was for me. And doggone it, only I get to choose what goes into my son’s mouth!!

    • Sarah says:

      Haha, gotta love a teenager giving out parenting advice. 🙂
      Glad you got to enjoy a nice shopping trip and lunch with Zander!
      <3