I worry. I worry a lot, about everything. I worry about death and illness and germs. I worry about deadlines and writers and typos. I worry about money, in a very-middle-class way: I’m not worried about the power being shut off or not being able to buy groceries, but I am worried about how we can afford our nanny and two summer camps and kung fu and ballet and other very-middle-class trappings. And tied in with that, as hypocritical as it sounds, I worry that my older daughter is getting spoiled. A few days ago, in a fit of pique over something extremely trivial, she responded to the news that we would be having lunch with my in-laws at the New Orleans Country Club for my husband’s birthday on Sunday by literally stomping her foot and saying, “I don’t care how many cherries they put in my Shirley Temples, I hate the Country Club!”
I can safely say that I never in a million years thought I would hear my child utter that phrase. She took it back moments later – she loves my in-laws, she loves having lunch there and she especially loves the extra cherries in her drink – but good grief!
This came on the heels of an epic tantrum the day before. Of all the things Ruby considers special treats – strawberry cheesecake ice cream from Brocato’s, Hansen’s snowballs, Roman Candy – her absolute favorite is Sucré macarons. Running errands the other day, Ruby perked up when we turned on to Magazine Street. “Macarons?!” she said, a Pavlov’s dog with refined taste and blond curls. “We’re near the macaron place! Can I get some? Please please pretty please with sugar and macarons on top, can I get some?”
“We’ll see,” I said, the standard parent answer. “Maybe we’ll get some as a treat after we finish our shopping if you’re good.”
And she was good. She charmed the shopkeepers. She entertained her baby sister while I paid for purchases. She sang songs and made small talk with other customers, all of whom complimented me on my adorable, polite, friendly daughter. And as much as I know that her behavior is not entirely a reflection of my parenting, I felt great. I was so proud of her, this sweet, social child I was raising perfectly because I am such a great mom. So of course I said we could get some macarons – just three so we didn’t spoil our dinner because, again, I am a great and responsible mom. Pride goeth before a fall, y’all. I know that now.
We went into Sucré, and she oohed and ahhed at the Easter-themed window displays with such a lovely sense of childhood wonder. She carefully selected her three flavors of macarons and smiled winningly at the girl behind the counter. She inquired after the health of a customer with a broken finger, told everyone she had a loose tooth and complimented a woman on her choice in scarves. And then … then they gave her her three macarons in a bag instead of a pastel-striped box – the box holds eight macarons, and we only get the box for super special occasions like her birthday and Christmas and when she wins awards at school – and all hell broke loose. She wanted a box. She hated macarons, she hated me, and she hated her little sister. She didn’t even want the macarons. She was going to throw them in the trash. She didn’t want to walk to the car with me because she hated me. She hated New Orleans, and she hated Magazine Street, and she hated that it was pretty outside because she was too angry for such a pretty day.
I started off calm: “This behavior is unacceptable, and I am very disappointed in you. Do you think the next time you want macarons, I will say yes based on this behavior?” I escalated: “Ruby, if you do not take my hand and walk with me to the car right now, you are going to have to pay me back for every one of those macarons, plus you will not have TV this afternoon!” Finally, I was yelling, “Ruby! This is not OK! You are acting like a jerk, and I don’t like it, and you are walking with me back to the car RIGHT NOW!” and dragging her down Magazine Street as best I could while holding bags, an Italian soda from Sucré and a 9-month-old infant.
Passersby stared at me – it could very well have been with sympathy, but in my head, they were all thinking, “If only you were a better disciplinarian and would just spank that bratty kid, this would stop right now.”
And as much as I know that her behavior is not entirely a reflection of my parenting, I felt horrible. I was so embarrassed by her, this spoiled, entitled child I was raising all wrong because I am such a crap mom.
Once she was back in the car and we were driving home, she calmed down, and we talked about it. She didn’t get any TV that afternoon, and so far, she has done enough chores around the house to pay me back for two of the macarons – they were obtained on a promise of good behavior that didn’t materialize, I told her, and thus I needed to be reimbursed. I thought we were doing OK – until suddenly, she was yelling that she hated cherries in her Shirley Temples, and we were right back where we started.
“What is going on?” I wondered frantically. We have talked about how lucky we are, how there are less fortunate people in the world, how some kids are hungry or thirsty or cold. She’s gone with my mom to feed the homeless. And yet she still thinks that getting fancy-pants cookies in a bag instead of a box is a tragedy?!
As I said, I guess I am guilty of this on some level, too, wringing my hands about being able to afford luxuries when I know there are people with much bigger problems out there. Maybe I am modeling this behavior for her, this sense that first-world problems are real and worth spending time and energy fretting about. I know I can’t just say to her, “Hey, you, be grateful!” and expect it to happen.
I also know that what happened the other day was a two-part problem: 1. That she was disappointed over something when I thought she should be appreciative and 2. That she handled her disappointment by throwing a huge fit. I feel like I could have dealt with the first part, even though it would still leave me shaking my head at her entitled attitude, if it hadn’t been followed by the second part. But the combination left me feeling depressed and concerned and like I was failing as a mom.
But then, almost seven years to the day after my miscarriage, Ruby and I had this conversation:
Ruby, completely out of the clear blue sky, segueing from a previous conversation about jelly bean flavors: “Mom, did you know sometimes babies can die before they’re born?”
Me: “Yes. It’s very sad.”
Ruby: “If that happened to me, I would be sad, but I would try again to have another baby. But I would be scared.”
Me: “Yes. It’s very scary.”
Ruby: “How do you know?”
Me: “Well, baby, I actually had it happen to me. And it was very sad. But then I tried again and I got you.”
Ruby: “And you were scared?”
Ruby: “But you did it anyway?”
Ruby: “Thank you.”
I tried to say, “You’re welcome,” but I was too choked up.
I may not be doing everything right, but I’m not doing everything wrong either. She might pitch a fit about macarons – but I’ll be damned: She has a sense of gratitude after all.