If You Buy A Kid An Ice Cream… You Change The Way You Look At Your World

The kids went to the dentist on Thursday. It was a midmorning appointment, so I kept them out of school for the day. At Babyboy’s school, you have to be buzzed in, show ID, sign in, get a name tag, such a process (for good reason, but still, a process). It just seemed silly to go through the trouble for only a couple of hours. Plus, it was a gorgeous fall day.

So, after they got their “No cavities!” pronouncement, I asked them where they wanted to go. After some discussion and negotiation, it was decided that downtown Boston was the place to go.

On the highway, my phone rang. It was Babyboy’s school. They wanted to know where he was. I explained that he’d had a dentist appointment. Are you bringing him in afterwards? They asked. Uh, no.. I answered.

I wasn’t sure if it was disapproval for this, or the inadvertent break in protocol (apparently, I was supposed to have let them know ahead of time that he wouldn’t be there) but I did get a bit of a lecture. Makes sense to notify them, but his prior school didn’t have that rule, so I didn’t realize… I’m sure they think I’m a totally disorganized mess.

Anyway. We ended up at the Aquarium, a consistent favorite, and great timing, too. The place was wide open. The kids were able to spend a long time at the Ray touch tank, stroking the slow-moving creatures as they sailed through the water. They ran ahead of me without me panicking about losing them in any crowd. They stationed themselves at one of the large windows in the giant tank forever, and as no one was waiting, I didn’t feel guilty. It was a leisurely fishy stroll.

We ate an early overpriced lunch there, and then just as busloads of school field trippers drove up, we left. We walked across the street to Faneuil Hall. It’s the post-dentist ritual for kids all over America: ice cream! They are predictable. Babygirl: chocolate ice cream with rainbow sprinkles in a cup with a cone on top. Babyboy: strawberry ice cream in a cup with a cone on top.

I’m the one who’s always made them get the ice cream in a cup with the cone on top, so they don’t lose the ice cream. Who hasn’t been traumatized by taking a big lick of the ice cream, only to have it fall off the cone? Classic child tragedy. We’ve averted this, to date.

But as we turned from the counter, Babyboy somehow lost his cone, and it fell, shattering. He immediately collapsed onto the ground, screaming and sobbing: My cone broke! My cone broke! I can’t eat my ice cream without the cone on top! He was acting as if his heart was totally broken, or he was in terrible pain, tears flowing, voice cracking… People turned to stare.

Okay okay, it’s okay, I’ll get you another cone to put on top, it’s fine, okay? I paid for another plain cone and stuck it in the top of his ice cream. Don’t drop this one, okay? Hold onto it, because if you drop this one, I am not buying you another one.

We made it to the outside stairs, and somehow, the second cone went flying, landed on the cobblestones, and cracked into pieces.

Again, he fell to the ground, heartbroken, crying out: My cone, my cone, you have to get me another one, I can’t eat my ice cream without a cone…

There was no way I was going to get him another cone. But I felt bad about it, because I know that his klutziness is likely related to his autism. God love him, he is really uncoordinated. The developmental folks call it “poor body awareness”, and it probably explains why his toilet training is an ongoing messy process. His body cues don’t quite register. He doesn’t realize where he is in space or why he’s having certain sensations.

And so I felt terrible when I had to say, again and again, that I was not going to buy him a third cone. He had his ice cream in the cup, that was more than most kids on the planet had, and he’d better be grateful and eat it, because if he didn’t and we had to throw it away, that would be very wasteful.

He didn’t eat it. We had claimed a stone bench in the sun; Babygirl perched herself there and slowly scraped away the top sprinkled layer of her ice cream, enjoying every mouthful. Babyboy sat and cried, tried different arguments, begged, cried. His ice cream melted. In the end I had to throw away his whole five dollar kid-sized cup (it is Faneuil Hall, after all) and probably three-quarters of Babygirl’s as well.

Babyboy was sad all the way back to the car, and all the way home.

I was sad too, because I know that gorgeous fall days playing hooky from school at the aquarium are very special, limited and precious. It was just so beautiful and perfect and why couldn’t he see that?

I’m thinking about this alot. Our kids have so, so much. Not in the sense of stuff, though they have plenty of stuff. I mean, they have a loving, safe home with plenty of everything. They have a wonderful, stable community and access to the best education. But if they grow up without anything to compare all that to, they won’t grasp it, they won’t understand how lucky they are. They have no idea that most of the kids on the planet don’t have clean drinking water, or enough protein, or any medical care, never mind a dentist visit every six months.

Our experiences are all relative. I can get sucked up into our illusionary first-world convenient culture quite easily: Our washing machine broke this week. Babyboy had diarrhea this week. Babyboy is not doing well with potty training. It’s been disgusting. At the end of a ten hour clinic workday, bursting into the house with two kids, dirty lunchboxes, backpack with a note from the teacher, kitchen a disaster, facing the bath and bedtime routine, and I smell…. that smell…. knowing that there is no washing machine, that I will have to either rinse out the underwear and store it somehow for when the new washer is delivered, or just throw YET ANOTHER pair away, well, I find myself feeling overwhelmed.

I want very much to throw myself on the ground, screaming and sobbing, too. This is when I lose my temper, and hiss For Christ’s sake, what is wrong with you, why can you not get this? Doesn’t it bother you to be sitting in poop? and then feel awful, terrible, worse, when my child begs Please don’t get mad. It was just an accident…

Step back, take a breath. Most of the world will never own a washing machine at all. Clothes are washed by hand in sinks, village common stone basins, rivers, buckets. No one throws away soiled undergarments because they can’t deal. Women spread their family’s wardrobe out on grassy banks or hang them from lines to dry in the sun. It just is what it is.

Most of the moms on the planet hope and pray that their kid won’t die in infancy of diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, AIDS, starvation. And then that they won’t get raped, murdered, enslaved. And then that maybe, they will make it to a better place.

I need to work on remembering this in my everyday life: How blessed we are. It’s important for me to realize how special, limited and precious every moment we have together is. I need to remember this, every day. This is practicing thankfulness.

I want to be able to show our kids what they have, and teach them to be thankful. It needs to be taught before it can be practiced, and it needs to be taught at home. I’m working on everyday small things like sharing tidbits of the news with them, to larger projects like delivering Thanksgiving meals to homebound seniors. Things we can do now. It can’t wait “until I have more free time”.

All this from when I bought my kid an ice cream…

4 thoughts on “If You Buy A Kid An Ice Cream… You Change The Way You Look At Your World”

  • Love this post, Monique. I try to get into this habit as well. It’s a cognitive shift to see the positive in the midst of a chaotic moment. Practice, practice, practice, you are doing great!

  • Yes, they need to learn thi. Few things bother me more than listening to my daughter complain about something she doesn’t have while she’s hoisting her Vera Bradley dance bag and her brand-new-this-year-fancy-brand backpack over her shoulder to go to school. I think it’s developmental, though. She’s 15 and still not really able to grasp her privilege – and she has friends who live in real poverty. She’s seen it up close. They’ll get it because you live it, it’s in your values, and that matters more than whether they’re expressing it at any given moment.

    I’m sure you know that the need for the cone, for everything to be the same exactly every time, comes from his autism, just as the clumsiness and body awareness issues do. So frustrating. We want our kids to be flexible and happy with what they get and we want special days to be special…this one sounds like it was marvelous until the ice cream. I’m so sorry that you and Babyboy ended the day on a sad note.

    (I was the same way about no ice cream cones, for the same reason, although I never got the cone on top. I just bought the cup. She was four or five the first time she had a cone and I held my breath the whole time)

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