“Oh, do you want some?” the woman sitting on a park bench asks, noticing my son eyeing her daughter’s Tupperware full of grapes. She holds it out to him invitingly. “Oh, no thank you,” I say, taking his hand. “We were just leaving. He’s going to have his snack at home.” “No, no! Take some!” she says, still talking to him, not me. “It’s okay!” “That’s so sweet of you,” I say. “But he really shouldn’t eat now. He’s going to eat at home.” “No, no! Take some! Take some!” She holds the Tupperware closer so that it’s now basically under my son’s nose. “Really!” she continues. “She’s not going to eat them all anyway.”
Well, what’s a mommy to do? I stand, frozen between social niceties and parenting philosophy. On the one hand, this other mother is being so nice and welcoming. She saw that my son was interested in her daughter’s grapes, knew that it wouldn’t bother her daughter any if he had some, and offered them. Refusing to take the grapes, after such an elaborate display of generosity, would seem rude. And we don’t want to seem rude. So, by that logic, we should take the grapes. They’re only grapes!
But there’s a reason I don’t want him to have the grapes! I even told this lady what the reason was. I think I was pretty clear. Just in case I wasn’t, here it is again: I’m not the kind of mom that lets her son snack all the time. He snacks at snack time. He eats meals at mealtimes. This is by no means the only way to do it. It’s not even the best way to do it. It’s just the way that works best for us. So, while eating a few grapes right now is really not a big deal at all by any standards, it teaches him quite a few things that I don’t want him to learn.
And the truth is: I’m angry. Angry at the sweet, kind other mother who is generously offering my son some grapes. Because as sweet and kind and generous as she is, she’s breaking the code of motherhood. We’re moms, we’re supposed to have each other’s backs. This parenting thing is hard. And, when we’ve made decisions about what we want our kids to do (or not do), enforcing them is even harder. So we’ve got to stick together. Help each other out.
If, for example, she doesn’t want her daughter to play with my son’s police car (even if I don’t mind if she does), I won’t hand it to her anyway. I’ll tell her, “Oh, no sorry. Your Mommy says no,” and put the car somewhere out of sight. That’s what you do. It’s how we take care of each other. This mom’s not playing by the rules.
But I let my son eat the grapes. I let him because I’m so torn between being polite to this mother on the one hand, and teaching my son to be polite on the other, that I’m paralyzed and choose the path of least resistance. And I watch him do exactly what I knew he would. He’s a toddler. A growing boy. He eats one grape, chews for a minute, looks at the lady and says, “More!” She gives him another. “More!” And another. “More!” He eats every last grape.
I try to intercede. I ask him to say please. (“Oh, don’t worry about that!” the other mother says.) I tell him it’s not polite to take more than you’re offered. (“She wasn’t going to eat them anyway!”) I tell him that’s enough now. That we’re going home. (“He can finish them!”) And I look at my son, all covered in grape juice and eying the tupperware as if there might be some more grapes hidden in a secret compartment somewhere and I take a deep breath. I take his sticky hand. “Say thank you,” I say through gritted teeth. “Sank woo,” he lisps. And we go home. For snack time.
And now that we’re gone, now that the situation is over, I’m not sure I made the right choice. And I silently curse that other mother for putting me in this position in the first place. She overlooked my clearly stated wishes for my child and imposed her own instead. She didn’t ask me “Would it be okay if I offered your son some grapes?” She asked him. And honestly, what did she expect him to say? No thank you, Ma’am, I don’t want to spoil my appetite? Of course not. In toddler-ese, there is no negative response to “do you want some?” There is only “yes” and “gimme gimme.”
She heard me give a clear and thoughtful reason why I didn’t want my son to have any grapes but she continued to push. She interrupted and belittled my attempts to teach my son the rules of etiquette which, to me, are very important. And my son emerged from the interaction feeling like it’s totally fine to demand a snack from a total stranger. That, once it’s offered, he can demand more. That he doesn’t need to say please. That he can take as much as he wants. And that he can do all this over the overt objections of his own mother. Thanks, lady.
My son spends the entire ride home in the stroller repeating “Nice lady. Grapes!” over and over again. I spend the entire walk home wishing I had handled that differently. Or at least that, the next time that lady has grapes, she drops them all on the ground. Then I can offer some to her daughter. “Don’t worry,” I’ll tell her. “You can totally eat grapes off the ground. Have some!”