My family loves to travel.
On a brisk late spring night in Atlantic City, just an hour away from our Philly home, my adventurous family of four headed to the world famous Steel Pier Amusement Park for some boardwalk fun and games. After snagging an arm’s length of tickets, my husband took my fearless 11-year old son to enjoy the height-appropriate attractions that require a strong stomach, while I took my equally daring, but not yet tall enough, 6-year old daughter to the more kiddie-friendly rides.
First up: “Flying Ace”– the airplane adventure with hydraulics. Dahlia was second in line, laser-focused on the purple plane she was dying to ride. I assured her it was hers, if available when it was her turn to ride. Fortunately, it was, and she was thrilled as I buckled her in, told her to have fun, and retreated to watch and take pictures.
So imagine my confusion when I looked up from my camera to see a man carrying a crying toddler and the ride operator now standing at my daughter’s plane.
When I went to investigate why my daughter was by then already climbing into another plane, turns out, the little boy was crying because he’d wanted to sit in a plane with a fake gun (a topic for another blog). When I asked Dahlia why she’d moved, she simply answered: “Mommy, he was crying. It’s ok.” My sweet girl is a people pleaser and while I have mixed emotions about that, the simplicity of her response, and the fact that she had contentedly moved on made me kiss her, walk away, and not cause more of a scene.
I returned to the spectator’s spot and stood right next to the (no longer crying) boy’s father. He offered as a means of explanation, “He wanted one with the gun!” Without hesitation, my reply, with a lot of attitude, was: “And she wanted the purple one!” His look of relief turned to one of sheepishness, which told me he realized, too late, his Parenting Fail. He immediately apologized but that still didn’t calm my rage.
While smiling and waving at my daughter as she flew by, I overheard the dad debating with his posse about whether or not to engage further with me. Without ever taking my gaze off Dahlia, I helped him along by offering: “You want to talk about it? Let’s talk about it!” And from there, that six-foot tall, 200-plus pound man got an earful from me–a five-foot tall firecracker! I’m not a yeller, since, for me, voice inflection and tone have always been far more effective than shrill volume and flailing hands. He got that I was seething. So, apparently at a loss for words, what does dude do? He reached in his pocket and offered me a fist full of tickets. Really?!! Now, I was livid and insulted by his continued sense of entitlement! He still missed the point.
Who was figuratively “flying the plane?” We all know that kids (especially toddlers) want what they want, when they want it. But it’s up to US as parents to manage their expectations, even if it sometimes results in tears and tantrums. Unfortunately in this case, the insidious seed of entitlement had already been planted and this guy missed out on an opportunity to empower his little boy. He could have said: “Let’s wait in line for the next flight, buddy. Then you’ll be first in line and you’ll get to choose any plane you like!’
I know it’s useless to try to reason with a toddler, but even at his young age, the word “no” is universal, and the attempt could have been made to teach him that he had the option of taking control of the situation by arriving at a solution that benefitted him and didn’t disenfranchise someone else. Sure, the child would likely have still been upset and dissatisfied, but it’s by experiencing disappointment and learning how to manage the emotions that come from it that our children become more well-rounded, adjusted, and empathetic people, and will less likely become entitled brats, which can carry over into adulthood!
Because I encourage my children to be problem solvers and self-advocates, once the ride ended, I reminded Dahlia of the power of her own voice. Granted, two grown men and a crying baby was intimidating, but I reinforced in her (in age appropriate language) that she should never be expected to just relinquish something that is rightfully hers, especially if she earned it.