Last week I had everything I needed for my dinner recipe except for shallots. I went to the grocery store but didn’t find the shallots in their usual place, tucked in between the red onions and the garlic. I took a second lap around the store to see if I’d missed them.
I was trying to mind my own business but heard another woman asking for shallots, so I trailed her from the peppers to the back of the store, where a worker had gone to search in the back for shallots.
While we waited to see if our quest would be successful, my new shallot-friend’s son played in the grocery cart. He was wearing gray pants and a blue shirt. He was singing.
In between our casual conversation, his mother would tell him to calm down or behave in the cart, but as time went on, staying calm and behaving became more difficult for this three-year-old boy.
As would happen (as always happens), the little boy turned over a 30-ounce container of juicy, cubed watermelon in the cart. The watermelon and its juices spilled in the cart and onto the floor of the grocery store.
The mother firmly took the boy out of the cart and stood him next to me. He stood frozen, knowing he was in trouble, while his mom worked to clean up the watermelon.
She used her most firm disciplinary voice while she cleaned the sticky mess. “See what you’ve done? This is why I told you to behave. You weren’t listening and now we have this big mess and no shallots. Now we’re not going to get ice cream after the store because you didn’t behave.”
The boy was as still as a statue. He knew he had made his mom angry, and he looked determined not to stir her wrath anymore. His feet were planted about a foot from my legs, and he silently watched as she cleaned and ranted.
Soon, his mother had a question for the worker at the seafood counter. While she asked if the shrimp was fresh, I could feel 3-year-old eyes burning into mine. He still didn’t move, so he was looking over his right shoulder at me. Aware that he only had seconds to say what he needed to say, he whispered something I couldn’t hear.
I bent down to ask him what he said, and he whispered again, “she’s being rude to me.”
I wanted to laugh but didn’t want to undo his mother’s discipline or make him think he could play one of us against the other, so I made my knowing mother face (which was easier with a mask on) and said, “I’m a mommy, too, and sometimes my kids get in trouble, too.”
His mother turned around at that time. “Are you talking about me?” He stared straight into her eyes, neither confirming nor denying that he’d tried to get me in his corner.
It struck me on the drive home that, as we parents search for and find our village as our parenting years progress — from preschools, work, dance classes, baseball and soccer teams — our kids are constantly in search of their own villages, too.
This child, at 3 years old, was trying to determine if he could work me against his mom. He was, like every child everywhere, trying to categorize me to see if I was for him or against him.
Every child needs to feel like they have a village, too. Someone who’s in their corner, on their team. They are constantly searching out teachers, parents of their friends, coaches, and instructors to see who is in their village. As they go to school, they scan the crowd of kids to see who might be a good village member.
There’s a lot of talk about it “taking a village” to raise children. But it also takes a village to grow up.
My heart broke for this little boy in the store. He looked so small and vulnerable while his mom reprimanded him and cleaned his mess. Part of me wanted to join his village, but I also need to be loyal to the village of parents trying to teach our kids to behave in the grocery store.
I don’t think he was too offended by my reaction, though. A few minutes later, on the tea aisle, he was excited to see me again. “You walk with us,” he said, as he put his little hand on my cart and walked with me. “Come on, mom, let’s walk with her!”
Turns out he decided we were both in his village, even after the spilled watermelon.