Out of the mouths of babes
In a past life, I was a teacher.
Because I was a department chair, in addition to the several classes I taught, my work world was pretty hectic and sometimes I had to get out of my office in order to get any work done. Thus, it was not unusual on a Friday afternoon for me to escape to one of my favorite dives with a pile of work and an appetite for spicy chili rellenos.
One such afternoon, while I prepared the following week’s criminology lecture, I overheard an unforgettable exchange amongst a young family in a booth next to me.
Because I was deeply ensconced in Trait theory versus Choice theory (are criminals born to be deviant or do they choose their actions?) I was not very excited that this family of four had descended into the booth next to me as there were plenty of seats elsewhere.
I smugly peered above my numerous text books thinking I could glare at them and make them disappear. But, the young family consisting of a toddler, a baby and a youthful man and woman whom I assumed to be the mommy and daddy, failed to notice my scowl and sat down to look at the menus. “There goes my concentration” I grumbled to myself as I ordered (another?) margarita to ease my self-righteous indignation.
I was half-way through my delicious, mood-altering chili-relleno when I heard the toddler start in on his parents.
Little boy: “Mom, can we get a puppy?”
(Silence – she was apparently busy with the baby)
“Dad,” the shrewd tot shifted his focus from one parent to the other. “Can I get a puppy?”
Dad: (sternly) “No. We can’t get a puppy. Do you want a taco or chicken fingers?”
I knew, the way only a prison-guard turned mother could know, that I was about to witness a mini-master at work.
Rookie dad. I thought. No way will he be able to change the subject that easily. He obviously does not yet know that toddlers come into this world programmed to be relentless.
I know this because I used to work in a men’s prison back in the 80’s. And then I birthed two sons.
Amused, I settled back in my booth, taking a break from my earth-shattering criminology lecture notes to watch the spectacle unfold.
Don’t misunderstand, I don’t mean to imply that the toddler I was observing was then, or ever would be a criminal, but if I could guarantee a safe experiment, I would put the world’s most indefatigable toddlers up against the most noteworthy criminal minds of our time in a match of will and wits and I bet that nine times out of ten, the toddler would outlast the thug.
“Mom!” the little boy nearly shouted.
“Ian has a puppy – I saw Ian’s puppy last week. Can we get a puppy? Pleeeeeeese?”
Mom: “No honey we can’t get a puppy. Do you want a taco?”
Little boy: “Why can’t I get a puppy?”
Mom: “Because you have a little sister.”
Oh boy. Did she really just say that? She is going to set junior up to hate his sister because she is the reason he can’t get a puppy? This can’t end well. I thought as I slugged down the last of my margarita.
Little boy: “Ian has a little sister AND a puppy.”
Point. Counter point. He’s keeping up.
Mom: “Your sister is a baby.” she said with emphasis.
The prodigy momentarily paused while the grown-ups ordered their dinner. But I knew it was not over yet.
I could almost hear the gears turning in his little genius head and I awaited with great anticipation what would come next.
Little boy: “Mom? Sissy came out of your tummy right?”
Hmmmm. Where’s he going with this? The virtuoso was far too clever to not have a plan. But my uncreative adult brain could not connect the dots.
Mom: (sounding exhausted) “Yes honey, your little sister came out of my tummy.”
The precocious puppy-seeker was quiet for a moment.
Wait for it, wait for it. I told myself.
“Yes honey” she answered with obvious fatigue.
“I can’t wait to see what’s going to come out of your tummy next!” he exclaimed with all the exuberance of one who believes.
I just about fell out of my seat laughing.
Just when I thought he might need years of therapy to overcome the resentment he would inevitably feel towards his sister, he saw a remarkable possibility that my adult brain could not conceive (no pun intended).
I will never know if the little boy got his puppy, but I have giggled about this scenario on more than one occasion, reminding myself that sometimes the solution to life’s most daunting quandaries can often be solved with a simple shift in one’s thinking.
Scott darling, can I get a puppy?