"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

“NO!”: Scene 1 in the life of a lovely little word

I was trying to buy some ribbon at a notions shop (crazy name!) in downtown LA, but couldn’t because the woman at the head of the line couldn’t make up her mind.

“Could I just see the gold ribbon again? And that polka dot grogain?  Do you have enough of this one?…Hmm, I’m not sure, let me see, I think I’ll need four yards of this one…wait make that three and five yards of the polka dot…if you have it….”

She didn’t care that those of us in line behind her had been there a good long while, that we had parking tickets to avoid, that we had better things to do with our lives than to be subjected to her decision-making process. And, double unfortunately, the sales woman didn’t feel the need to say, “While you take a moment to think through your order, let me just ring up those people in line who already have their items ready to go and then I’ll get back to you (and your endless search for just the right thing).”

While I was obviously getting impatient, it was the poor three-year old behind me that I was concerned about. She was busy getting chewed out by her mom. If the sales lady would just hurry up, the poor girl would be put out of her misery. At least for a moment.

“No! Sooozeee! What did I just say? No! Keep your hands in your stroller!  Do not, do not touch one more thing or you are going to be in trouble. I’m not kidding.” said her charming mother, admonishing the shit out of her in front of us all before returning to the fun conversation she was having with her girlfriend. Within moments they were right back where they’d left off, chatting and laughing away. Unlike me, they didn’t seem to mind the wait.

Insensitive mother aside, can you imagine being three years old—literally surrounded by ribbons of every color and pattern and size and texture—metallics, silks, tie-dyes, rainbows, velvets and sparkles—and being told not to touch anything? It’s like saying,

“Here’s a chocolate bar….just sniff it.”

I mean really? How could her mother expect her to just sit still and do nothing in such a sparkling, enticing, sensory-overload location while we all wait for ten minutes which must have seemed like an eternity to the Suzie. (And really, how could she have possibly known how long we’d be there?)

Not surprisingly, her thoughtful mom didn’t give her a toy. Or a book to read. Or a snack to eat. Or some conversation. Nothing. She just expected her child to sit and “behave”.

Now certainly Suzie was old enough to not only understand “no” but to comply with it. And comply she did. Hell, I would have too. Her mom scared the shit out of me. But really, what would have been so awful about giving her some ribbon to hold onto? And even to unravel?

“Honey, I know there are so many beautiful things in here to look at. I know you want to touch them. I have an idea, while we’re waiting in line, why don’t you pick out two ribbons you want to look at. Then, when we’re ready to leave, I can help you put them back where they belong.”

Her child’s feelings (excitement, desire) would have been acknowledged instead of having to feel like they were wrong. (Don’t get excited by things! Don’t be curious.) Her child would know that her mom was on her side, an ally who wanted to help her cope with the trying situation. She would have been able to explore some new textures and perhaps they may have lead to some craft or dress-up ideas. And perhaps best of all, she would have felt that her mom trusted her enough to let her play with the ribbons.

It’s not like we were in a china shop. They were just ribbons. They could be rolled back up onto their spool. And if her daughter’s hands were sticky she could have helped her wipe them clean.


If her mom really felt like she needed to teach her not to touch things she didn’t own (which I can understand) then she could have been a little creative as in, “Hey honey, let’s play a game while we wait. You describe your favorite ribbon and I’ll try to guess which one you’re talking about.”

Instead the message her mom gave was loud and clear:

Suzie, I care more about these ribbons than I care about you.

As usual, I left the store muttering to myself like a homeless person high on crack,  “You know what lady? Next time you might want to consider googling the word “ribbons” while Suzie plays in the comfort of her own home where hopefully more is on limits than off. Then you can scroll through a site full of hundreds of options and click on the ones you want and they’ll be delivered right to your door! In that way your child who has long out-grown the stroller you have her stuffed into won’t have to be strapped in and no’d in front of everyone as if she was committing a major crime while you shop. Good day!”

I’m so profoundly ill-equipped to be out and about in the world.

I know I’m supposed to be empathetic because that poor mom had a mom who likely did the same to her…but worse.

I know, I know. And yet….

Up next:

“No!” Scence 2 in the life of a word

7 Responses to ““NO!”: Scene 1 in the life of a lovely little word”

  1. Amy at TIH says:

    You crack me up!
    I can relate to your processing, even up to the point of “I’m so profoundly ill-equipped to be out and about in the world.” There’s a lot out there that really hurts my heart. Thankfully with two kids under 3, I now notice everyone else much less ;)

    • Jennifer says:

      i try to bring a laugh or two to the subject….otherwise i’m afraid i’d lose my mind. i’m one my way over to check out your blog: tumbleweedinfanthouse.blogspot.com

      thx for the comment.


  2. Anon says:

    I agree with everything you say. But so many times, in the moment, I just don’t do it, and then I say the wrong thing to my kid and feel bad. I suppose it’s a “practice makes perfect” kinda thing. Just please tell me this is hard for you too…and that you don’t always get it right.

    • Jennifer says:

      YES IT IS SO HARD!!!

      But if you do say the wrong thing it is an EXCELLENT opportunity to show your child that mistakes happen and that they can be repaired. You can apologize to your child and be very specific about it. “When you did X, I got mad and handled it poorly. Instead of doing y, I did z. and I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. Here’s how I should have handled it.”

      Then your kid will have a great role model and apologizing for him won’t be soooo hard as he grows up.

      again…yes it is hard. you have the right, of course, to feel frustrated and angry etc. and we all make mistakes but it isn’t our kids fault that a) their brain are developing and are still so much in progress b) that we had a hard day c) that we don’t have enough money or time or whatever or that we had four kids or whatever….the best we can do is try to, as you said, practice. and yes, the success does keep reinforcing itself.

      thank you for writing. i’m sure a lot people can relate. i know i can!

  3. Tom Moore says:

    As always, this advice seems dramatically well suited to the experiences I have with adults in my life. More respect and understanding all the way around.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Jen! I’m VERY familiar with the extra loud talking to my children! Sounds like you handled it beautifully…well done on your self-control in the end.

    i wish i did have one of my children with me at the store…i wanted to say to suzie, “you see so many ribbons…not touching them is hard, isn’t it? I want to touch them all too!” but i knew the mother would be like, fuck off lady and i didn’t want to make things worse for the kid. usually in those situations for me it’s better to leave….but i needed the ribbons and had come so far and had already paid for parking!

  5. Jen says:

    Yeah, I’ve seen this happen too many times when out in the world. It makes me feel so bad for the kid!!! But you talked about how it all comes down to modeling, right? Well, the other day we were waiting in line at Borders and the baby in front of us was crying, which made my baby start to cry (I guess he was sympathetic?). The other mom kept saying, “sshh, ssshhhh, it’s ok, it’s ok,” which annoys me to no end. So, I said extra loudly to my baby, “I know, we’ve been waiting in line for awhile. You sound like you’re getting impatient and I totally understand. We can come back later if you want, ok? You just let mommy know.” Or something like that. My baby stopped crying as soon as I started listening and talking to him and lo and behold, so did the other baby.

    Then I purposely did not give that mom the side eye, even though I really wanted to…

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