Many children have trigger-points. It may be a place, a situation or a person, but when they’re triggered, they go bananas. For example: don’t let anyone (aside from me and a few people in our circle) try and talk to my wife when our daughter’s around. It’s like she was raised in the wild without any parents, chilling with squirrels. She gets loud, will push and hit, and becomes a pint-sized demon.
I’ve looked at her during one of these tantrums and had no idea who she was. How can someone so gentle and compassionate turn into… whatever the hell she is in those moments?
With me, she loses it in the grocery store. While these incidents happen less frequently, there were times when I just wanted to leave her for security and continue shopping. Cereal boxes fly off the shelves, cans roll down the aisle, apples are bitten into and discarded. Still, as frustrated as I have been, I never once thought she owed me good behavior. The older she gets, there will be more behavioral expectations placed on her, but the idea that she owes me being good doesn’t sit well with me.
About a week ago, my daughter and I were shopping. I’m always ridiculously tense when we shop, as I have no idea how she is going to behave. She was an absolute angel. She helped put things in the basket, did not get upset when she was told “no” after asking for things, and we had a nice conversation about her excitement with attending kindergarten in a few months.
When I turned my back to grab some soy milk, I heard an enormous crash and a scream that sent a shiver all through me. Sadness immediately set in and I felt tears well in my eyes. I thought, “I knew it was too good to be true.”
I turned around, and my daughter was pointing, mouth wide open, at a boy who’d just lost it. His mother was crying, shoulders and spine stooped in defeat. It’s very rarely appropriate to interfere on behalf of a parent you don’t know, but the mother looked shell-shocked. As if she couldn’t even comprehend what was happening.
But then, something activated her and she snatched the boy up with a speed that was damn near superhuman. She popped him in the cart and went in. She said a lot, and it all impacted me in a huge way.
“Why? Why can’t you just be normal for 30 minutes? All the stuff you get, and you cannot be good? You cannot be good for 30 damn minutes? After all the sacrifices I make for you!” It was the word “sacrifice” that hit me. Many of us parents say we don’t judge the parenting styles of others, but we do, don’t lie. So when she told her 5-year-old-looking son that she makes sacrifices for him, I immediately went into judgment mode, but then pulled back. I didn’t know her story, so I had no idea where she was coming from.
But the idea of sacrificing anything for my daughter was like having a popcorn hull stuck in my teeth. When I think of sacrifice, I think of Abraham and Isaac. I think of having to give up something I dearly love for something else. To me, sacrifice always denotes a profound loss, or something given away through violence. The meaning of the word has changed over time, but I experience it as the foundation of a kind of deficit.
I don’t want to think of anything related to my child as a loss. I’ve made choices. Some have been very hard, but they’ve been choices. I’ve never once thought of anything I’ve done for my kid as any type of sacrificial act.
Isn’t it our jobs to ensure that our children know more, have more, and experience more than we did? Aren’t we building a foundation and infrastructure for their future successes? Yes. That is how I view my parenting… despite how many trips I cannot take because of how much it costs for my daughter to have everything she needs. But these are the choices her mother and I make for love.
As we were leaving the store, my daughter asked, “Do I look like that when I act bad at the store?” Yes, I told her. You’ve actually looked much, much worse. “That’s not cool, Daddy. I won’t make you sacrifice anything ever again.” I hugged and kissed her, and told her that if it came down to it, I would make sacrifices for her, but I have yet to make one. I make choices, I told her. And I’m doing my best to make the right ones.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.