That's what this behavior has become for him: recreation. After a while, it has little to do with whatever is the subject of the moment: toys, refusal to go to bed, punching his sister. It is now nothing more than the simple pleasure of getting in your face and proving once again what a moral coward you are.
Soon enough he'll be initiating trouble just to get the fun started.
Painful to Watch
Ahead of me in the checkout line at Kmart is a father reading a tabloid while his three-year-old girl squirms in the shopping cart. Her heels kick the cart, her lips hum a song, her eyes roam round and round for some escape from boredom. She notices a display rack within arms' reach.
"Daddy," she says.
"I want gum."
"No gum." He doesn't raise his eyes from his reading.
She is irked by the inattention. She kicks out a foot that rattles his paper. This brings a bright smile to her face. He jerks his paper out of reach, refusing still to make eye contact with her.
"Daddy," she says again.
"What?" There is irritation in his voice now. Yet she shows not the slightest hint of being intimidated.
"When are we going! I want to go!"
"Pretty soon," he says, still insistent upon being preoccupied.
"But I want to go now!"
"Sorry. Gotta wait in line." He flips over a page. She looks at him hard and calculatingly. She happens to catch my eye and holds the gaze. Her forehead furrows and her mouth presses out a pout. How dare he treat me like this? her expression says.
She turns in her seat and begins plucking packs of gum from a display box and tossing them into the shopping cart. After about the fifth one Dad has no choice finally but to look up.
"Stop it," he says.
"We need gum," she says matter-of-factly, tossing more packs into the shopping cart.
"I said 'Stop it.'" He closes up his paper in an effort to show he is serious. Too late.
She wrinkles up her nose and actually sticks her tongue out at him. Then she steals a glance at me expecting, I suppose, to bask in my admiration of her audacity. But I'm too busy wincing.
Mercifully he does not slap her. But neither does he do anything constructive.
"Stop it," he says again, his impotence now as obvious as his five-o'clock shadow.
She raises her nose another inch in the air and tosses a couple more packs of gum into the cart.
Father and daughter stare each other into a standoff until it comes time for Dad to roll forward to the cashier. He does so, taking his daughter out of reach of the gum. He begins to gather the items in his cart and set them on the conveyor. She watches him closely and bides her time.
When everything else has been placed on the counter, he collects the packs of gum from the cart and begins fitting them back in the display boxes. She's been waiting for this.
"Gum!" she hollers. "I want GUM!"
"No," he says quietly.
"GUM, GUM, GUM, GUM, GUM . . ."
Her chant grows louder and louder until in desperation he takes the last pack, cups it in his hand, furtively drops it in among his other purchases on the counter, then steps back as though the gum had fallen from the sky. She quiets immediately and gives circumstances a little nod of approval.
A few minutes later, after I have paid for my purchases and pause to slip wallet into pocket, I notice father and daughter just outside the plate glass window, heading for the parking lot. They have stopped on the sidewalk. The father is unwrapping something. I look to see what it is. He hands his daughter a stick of gum, and she folds it into her mouth. She notices me through the window and gives me a big smile.
©2002. All rights reserved. Reprinted from It's Not That Complicated by Doug Peine. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.
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