A group of Park Slope parents recently berated an ice cream vendor for having the audacity to sell his frozen goods to children in nearby Prospect Park. They took to a Park Slope parents discussion board and called for the removal of all ice cream vendors from the park.
You want to know why?
Because they don’t want to hear their children whining when they tell them they can’t have ice cream.
Or, in simpler terms, because they don’t want to have to be the ones to tell their children “NO.”
One of the parents posted, “Along with the first truly beautiful day of the year, my son and I had our first ruined day at the playground. Two different people came into the actual playground with ice cream/Italian ice push carts. I was able to avoid it for a little while but eventually I left with a crying 4-year-old.”
Wait a minute. Let me just sit quietly until my head no longer feels like exploding and this pesky aneurysm passes. Ok, I’m good now.
Haven’t we all had to remove a crying toddler from a situation like this? No, you can’t have ice cream for lunch. No, you can’t eat food from other people’s plates at a restaurant. No, you can’t steal that child’s toy and lick it. No, you can’t squeeze the dog until his eyes bulge out of his head. No, you can’t disrobe and run around the makeup counters at Macy’s.
But not these parents. These are the parents who are afraid to say no, because they don’t know how to deal with their child’s disappointment. They’re the ones who sound like Willy Wonka while their children are beating the crap out of other children at playdates or playgrounds. They utter “Don’t. No. Stop.” in flaccid, defeatist, quiet tones. And completely ignore them. Then they take to their smartphones and text about how they just saw so-and-so’s nanny being inattentive to her charges and how glad they are that they’re staying at home with their children to enjoy so much quality time together.
Make no mistake — there’s no chance that I’ll be getting the “Mother of the Year” award any time soon. But what part of this is right?
Does this mean that all ice cream stores should be shuttered, since you’ll probably be walking past one of them with your child in tow? Should we ban candy from supermarkets? What about other temptations like toys and video games? Should we call for a moratorium on Abercrombie & Fitch when your child goes to middle school?
I hate to break it to you, but ain’t no chance in hell you’re getting the pot dealers out of Washington Square Park in Manhattan. The cops gave up years ago. Pray your child doesn’t go to NYU, oh Great Helicopter Parent.
We have a saying in my house. (Actually, I have several sayings, most of which are uttered when I’m behind the wheel of our car, and someone’s cut me off, and my kids fight over who gets to be the one to repeat it to Daddy when he gets home from work.)
When my children beg and cajole for something, I say “NO.” When they keep it up, I say to them, “What does ‘NO’ mean?” And they answer, sullenly, “NO.” End of story. To quote Mick Jagger — a stellar parent in his own right, I’m sure — you can’t always get what you want.
It’s not about being the bad guy. It’s about teaching impulse control, values, manners, good spending habits, and that you’re not the center of the gosh-darn universe. Parenting is difficult. It’s even ugly, sometimes. So is life, from time to time. We have to be the ones to teach our children that, or it will be much more cruel and painful for them when the rest of the world does.
Call me crazy — but there’s nothing wrong with taking your kids to the park and buying them an ice cream as a treat when they’ve figured out how to push themselves on the swings, or make it all the way to the end of the monkey bars, every once in a while. So please don’t take Mister Softee away from the rest of us, ok?
I know, I know, some kids have allergies and can’t enjoy certain kinds of ice cream. Before you start chewing me out — know this. My children are two of them. They’re both allergic to chocolate. Sometimes, there’s nothing left for them to choose from the ice cream truck freezer but chocolate-flavored-this or chocolate-covered-that. That’s when they have to accept that life isn’t always fair, and they have to take a pass that day. When they go to a child’s birthday party, and the cake is chocolate, they have to learn that then, too. Some of my friends’ kids have allergies which are far more serious than my son and daughter’s. They pack a snack for them before they go to the park. It’s what you do.
Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think kids should be eating ice cream from a truck every day, or every week. I shudder to think what kinds of fillers are in soft-serve sludge. (“Ash” used to be listed as one of the ingredients in Tasti-D-Lite when we lived in Manhattan and bought ourselves a cup now and then. I’m not even kidding.) But I do believe in moderation.
I also believe that you shouldn’t let kids win at Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders. Except when you’re freakin’ exhausted from an hour and a half of going up and down those confounded apparatuses. (Kidding! Kind of.) Who is this Milton Bradley anyway? Some kind of sadomasochist?
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. (A common saying that sounds better when you sing it like that Carole King song.) Sometimes you grab the brass ring, and sometimes you miss it. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. Wait a minute. That’s not right.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear the Good Humor man. I’m going to send the kids out front with a couple of bucks and treat them to ice cream. I’ll ask them to get me a Bomb Pop (or whatever they call it these days, because of parents who were offended by the obviously violent, militant reference). Then I’m going to pull out my old radio and my woven lawn chair, and I’m going to sit down and listen to the music from my New York City childhood — the sounds that wafted from transistors on stoops and the open windows of big old Gran Torinos cruising down the street.
Then I’m gonna close my eyes. And I’m not gonna care if the dog steals my Bomb Pop. You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.
I’m just gonna pretend that I’m back in a simpler time.
And I’m gonna thank my lucky stars that I remember what that’s like.