In the market for a little peace and quiet

February 27, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD

It was in the produce section of the supermarket when I first heard it, a high-pitched wailing coming from the next aisle as I pawed through the vegetables, trying to pick the ones coated with the fewest deadly pesticides.

The wailing got louder and louder.

Naturally, it was coming toward me, too. This is how things go for me these days. When people make loud, annoying noises in public, whether it's with cell phones or car horns or impromptu wailing, they always seem to be around me.

Seconds later, a shopping cart turned the corner and the source of the wailing became visible.

It was a mother pushing her toddler, who was standing amid the groceries and wailing and rocking the cart from side to side in one of the most stunning meltdowns you will ever see.

The kid was going absolutely nuts. He was maybe 3. I wanted to reach over and clamp a beefy hand over his little mouth, to stop the horrible wailing for even a few seconds. But they call the police when you do that now.

There was no telling what had set the little monster off, either.

Was he just tired and cranky?

Was he flipping out because his mother wouldn't give him a candy, or because she wouldn't buy something he wanted?

Or did he simply want out of his rolling red-and-silver jailhouse so he could run freely through the aisles and knock over a few cans and cartons, as he's genetically programmed to do?

Anyway, the kid continued to wail and wail and wail.

But here's the thing that really struck me about the whole situation: In the midst of all this wailing, the mother just ignored him.

She didn't try to comfort him and calm him down.

She didn't tell him to knock it off or else.

She didn't say: "OK, that's it, mister!" and pick him up and whisk him out to the parking lot until he settled down.

No, she just kept strolling along behind her cart, a blank, Stepford Wives expression on her face as she studied the rows of groceries and continued her shopping.

And, of course the more she ignored the kid, the more thermonuclear he went.

So now, not only was the kid absolutely miserable, but the whole store was being treated to the loud, surround-sound screeching of a 3-year-old.

The truth is, I have seen this phenomenon before -- a parent ignoring a wailing child -- and never understood it.

Look, I am absolutely the last person to tell any parent what to do when a kid has a meltdown in public.

When my kids were younger and acted up in a store, I'd do whatever it took to shut them up, whether that was threatening them with homicide or tossing $20 bills at them and whispering: "Shhhhh! Just take the money!"

But I don't see how ignoring the kid when he's wailing does any good.

Again, I had no way of knowing what set this kid off in the first place.

If it was past his bedtime and he was starting to unravel, maybe all he needed was a hug and a cookie to calm down.

Or if it was a matter of the kid having a temper tantrum because he didn't get what he wanted, well, then you deal with that.

Understand, no one's saying you cave in and give him what he wants. No one wants a spoiled brat on their hands.

(Even though that would give him a leg up on making the U.S. Winter Olympic team someday. Probably as a downhill skier. Ba-da-boom! Thanks, we'll take a short break, don't forget to tip your waiters!)

But if the kid starts throwing a hissy fit in the middle of the supermarket because he wants candy, maybe you divert his attention somehow.

Maybe you give him a cereal box to look at. Or you take him over to look at the lobster tank. Or you tell him to count the items in the shopping cart and start stacking them.

The point is, you do something to stop that wailing.

And if that doesn't work, it might be time to hustle the kid out of there -- and give the other shoppers a break from all that noise.

Of course, this mom in the supermarket with the wailing kid took none of those measures, apparently deciding that all the other shoppers were staring at her not because of the hysterical child bouncing up and down in her shopping cart, but because of her snazzy hairdo and the 2-for-1 sale of Del Monte corn niblets she'd managed to snag.

Naturally, the kid stopped crying when I headed to the checkout counter. It always works that way.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To listen to podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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