Train Wreck

I’ve barely been in New York a week, and already, I’ve made two enormous enemies.

It started at toddler storytime.

A lady with a Barnes & Noble nametag took to the stage and warned us that she was very soft-spoken.  It seemed strange to me that they got the one soft-spoken person in all of Yonkers to host an event that hinged on holding the attention of two-year-olds.  Her point was that if the kids got bored with her, she wouldn’t be offended if they got up and walked around.  OK, thanks for that.

My kids made it through one book, then lost interest during some snooze-inducing Caldecott winner.  (It was a bedtime book, so maybe that was the desired effect.)  They got up and started to wander.

The children’s section at Barnes & Noble, if you’re not familiar, is full of fun stuff for kids to do, all of which is designed to make them tell their parents, “I want to go to Barnes & Noble!”, after which you’ll walk out with an armful of Dora the Explorer TV tie-ins and maybe a $25 Madeline doll.

Bennett quickly discovered the main attraction – a large wooden train set.  A couple of other boys were already there, pushing train cars around the tracks.  There were only 4 cars to play with, and each of the boys had 2, so all Bennett could do was stare at them longingly, waiting for a turn.

The kids’ moms were leaning nearby, deeply immersed in their own chat.  One of them started to instruct her son to share with my kid, but the other one cut her off and told her not to bother.  Seriously, she told her friend not to encourage her child to share.

I was furious.  It was so rude.  It demanded a comeback.  So I took a move right from page 1 of my social playbook… I sheepishly slinked away and herded my kids back to storytime where I could brood.

The other toddlers were now doing the Hokey Pokey, while the quiet lady was softly instructing them from Elmo’s Hokey Pokey book.  But while they were putting their left foot in and, subsequently, out, I was silently shaking my rage all about.

Why did I cower to that mean mom?  That was a teachable moment if ever I’d been presented with one, and I’d blown it.  Instead of showing my kid that I value sharing and sticking up for yourself, I’d let a bully get the best of me.  Who did she think she was?  If my kid wanted to play with Barnes and Noble’s trains, he had just as much right as her kid.

My kids lingered at storytime for ten minutes or so, but Bennett was itching to get back to the trains.  So eventually, I let him go.  I couldn’t believe it, but those same two boys and their moms were still hogging the four measly train cars.

Round Two had begun.

One boy was losing interest, and he dropped his trains.  Bennett saw his opportunity, so he waddled over to pick them up.  But the kid’s mom saw Bennett coming and — yes, this really happened — yanked the trains out of Bennett’s reach.

A grown lady.  A little boy.  And while she was doing it, she said, “Oh no!  I’m not dealing with that!”  (As if to imply that she feared her son might melt down if he saw someone else playing with the trains.)

Naturally, Bennett started crying.  Loudly.

I wasn’t going to take it this time.  The rematch was mine to lose.

“I’m sorry, Bennett,” I said, consoling my child.  “They don’t want to share.”

That’s right.  I’d moved onto page 2 of my social playbook.  I went passive-aggressive on that wench.

Bennett cried louder.

“I know,” I went on.  “It’s not nice, but some people don’t share.  Not everyone’s nice.”  I was about two feet away from the woman at this point, and by now a small crowd had gathered, because this was far more interesting than the regularly scheduled in-store event.

Bennett swung his arm toward the trains and shouted, “MINE!”

I corrected him.  “No, it’s not yours.  It’s the store’s.”

That’s when the mean mom finally spoke up.  “Actually, it’s ours.  We brought them from home.”

Um… what?!

“We brought ours and that boy brought his and that boy brought his.”

I looked at the trains.  Each boy’s were different, backing up her story.  Suddenly, I realized I was the crazy one.  My outrage was based on the assumption that the trains were communal property.

“I’m sorry.  I thought they were the store’s.”

“No, the store used to have some for the kids to use, but people kept taking them home.  Now you have to bring your own.”

Bennett didn’t understand any of this.  He was now in a full-on meltdown.  I was embarrassed, people were watching.  It was not pretty.  The mean mom motioned toward a shelf of train cars for sale.  “Sometimes we forget ours and we have to buy a new one.”

Yes, that was the answer.  I could buy a train and put an end to all of this instantly.  It was that simple.  Then everyone would be happy — Bennett, the mean mom, Barnes & Noble — until some other kid wanted to play with Bennett’s train and suddenly I was the one thinking, “Screw that kid.  We paid for it!”

I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t buy into the system.  Instead of a train, my kid was getting… an explanation.

Bennett screamed as I rationalized the scenario for him.  “You have to bring your own trains.  I don’t think that’s a nice policy, but that’s what Barnes & Noble decided.”  That’s right.  Now I was going passive-aggressive on a faceless corporation.  Not that the kid could hear me over his own wailing.

All around me, moms and employees were surely thinking, “Just buy the kid a damn train.”  It’s then that I realized this was all part of the store’s plan.  When people started stealing their train cars, they didn’t take the tracks away.  They didn’t fit the trains with those shoplifting sensors they put in the books.  They just used it as a way to sell more train cars.

With a trainless train track, they’d set my kid up to fail.  They’d turned their customers against each other.  They’d made their children’s section into Thunderdome.

Thus, I penciled in a new #1 and #2 on my enemies list:

1.  Barnes

2.  Noble

We have some trains at home, but I won’t be packing them up to take to those two anytime soon.  And the next storytime we go to will be at the library.

In case you haven’t guessed, page 3 in my social playbook says, “Blog about it.”

28 comments on “Train Wreck

  1. If that mother had explained the situation from the outset you would have been able to handle it differently. I don’t agree with the way the store or the particular mother behaved.

    I always encouraged my children to share their toys but if something was brand new and special (newly received birthday present) I explained to visiting guests why my child did not have to share that straight away and if it was going to cause a scene I would just remove said toy and divert attention to another toy.

    • That’s a good policy. My general attitude is: if you don’t want to share it, don’t bring it out in public where other kids will want to play with it. I’m stunned at the parents who bring their own toys to those indoor playrooms. Isn’t the whole point to get your kid to play with the playroom’s toys? If you want to play with your own toys, stay home. It’s cheaper.

  2. now you know your not in california anymore…your in rough and tough New York! Hahaha…As a mom from Queens with 2 boys living in suburban new jersey…I understand that there is sometimes a need for some sass…good for you!

  3. Ah, no matter how you slice it, she was rude! In a perfect (or kinder, gentler…or, actually, in MY) world, that explanation would have happened right away.

    You did exactly what I would have done: stew, passive/aggressive, explanation to child. I’ll take you back to Lilo and Stitch, summer of 2002…there’s a kid sitting in front of us yelling, screaming, jumping, bouncing and mom does nothing. My disabled seven year-old bites on popcorn, loses a baby tooth in the process, yelps and I get a dirty look from the (gosh, I love this) wench with the brat. I stuck my tongue out at her…not very mature, but satisfying at the time…

    I have boycotted places for similar reasons. B&N does want to lure you in to buy (we have one of those Madeline dolls…let’s not talk about it…it’s a little depressing) and they KNOW (just like Borders knew) that the more soft-spoken Ms. or Mr. Storytime is, the antsier the kids will get…and once a kid starts to yell…out comes the debit card. The library is a lot more fun and you’ll probably find better books that are not best-sellers in the kids’ section. (Try The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash…for some reason toddlers love that one!)

    I’m proud of you…I would’ve probably pushed the passive/aggressive envelope a little further and said “you don’t know if that kid has a stomach virus!!!!!!!” 😀

    • I’m stunned at your Lilo & Stitch story. Some parents are just horrible. No wonder their kids grow up to be a-holes.

      I do get annoyed at people who bring their own toys to a public place (and worse still, who then refuse to share them). Not that I’m really this paranoid, but I like to know what my kids are playing with. Who knows what your standards are – do they have lead paint? Do they have small parts that will pop off and choke my kid? Or like you said, has your sick kid been slobbering all over them? I generally don’t want my kids playing with strangers’ toys, but what am I supposed to do when your stupid kid is waving them around in my kid’s face?

      And thanks for the book recommendation!

      • What is appalling to me is that she is modeling behavior for her child, and she’s modeling the wrong type of behavior. Oh, the times I’ve wanted to bite someone’s head off and have opted to control myself because the kids are watching! If she had explained politely the train-situation, she would have taught her child (regardless of his youth) that it is important to communicate…

        We encounter a lot of rudeness on account of our son’s disability (his facial hair and size don’t match his mental age and people think he’s fallen from Mars or something) and that has given me an attitude, but I try (TRY being the operative word there) to teach people (my kids included) something when I react.

        You’re doing fine. Hang in there. It’s an entirely different social animal in this side of the country, and people in general have lost some of the finesse that used to be taught early on in life. Does it help if I tell you that your kids will be a lot nicer and more aware of the world around them than the average train-bandying tots you’re encountering out there? I’ve felt, from time to time, like I’m the only person who expects her boys to have some degree of manners and consideration towards others, but one of these days -when you least expect it, in a store or a cafe or a park- you will make eye contact with a parent whose eyes are screaming back “I KNOW!!!!!!” as they witness your outrage at the way in which some people behave…

      • There’s no excuse for being rude or ignorant about someone’s disability. I don’t blame you for having an attitude about it, and when you’re protecting your son against the rudeness, I’m sure you’re teaching everyone involved just what they need to learn with your reaction.

        I’m realizing why there are so many lousy parents out there. It’s HARD to be a good one. You’re constantly reining your kids in, reminding them to say “please” and “thank you”, looking like a crazy person by scolding them in public. It’s so much easier to throw your hands up and say, “Do what you want!” We all have that impulse sometimes. It’s hard to be consistent, but that’s the only way the kids will learn.

  4. Do you get the feeling, too, that the world sometimes is really tough on kids and their parents? And just why is that?
    I commend you for not buying a train, and I’m sure most of the onlookers thought the same. I think it’s the most important lesson I can (and have to, over and over) teach my little monster: Just because you are screaming you won’t get your way. It’s difficult at the time, and for me, taking him away to a more quiet corner, talking to him and promising him something nice (not McDonald’s!) if he stops shouting usually does the trick. Not before several people in the surrounding crowd have had an acute hearing loss, of course.
    PS: I’m really grateful for page 3, just love your stories!

    • Thanks, Sandra!

      Yeah, we eat at McDonald’s sometimes. I figure it’s OK in moderation, and I like that my kids actually eat a full meal there, even if it’s not the healthiest. I offered to take them somewhere else, but they both shouted out “McDonalds!” and I figured, you know what, they’ve had a rough morning. Let’s do it.

      I’m lucky in that my kids are still at the age where they don’t always realize things are for sale. We were at the drug store last night, and they had balloons. I said, “Yes, that’s so nice that they put balloons out. Let’s go look at them.” If I bought them balloons every time we saw one, I wouldn’t have room to walk around my house.

  5. I blame the mean mom, not B&N – playground rules apply when you’re in a public place, even a B&N store! BTW, it’s the same situation at Travel Town in Griffith Park (in LA). There’s a wooden train table and track, but because people kept stealing the trains, you have to bring your own. Of course, on our first visit, asTravel Town virgins, we came empty handed. The moms in the know were nice enough to share (as those B&N mothers should have done!!!). Whenever I’ve been back to Travel Town, Icome armed with a bag of trains, and share with anyone who doesn’t have one. It can be difficult to make sure no one walks off with our trains, but worth it not to watch a child sadly eyeing my son as he plays!

    As for B&N, the nanny takes my son there once or twice a week without buying ANYTHING. He loves it. The people who work in the store we go to (at the Grove) are wonderful, and I’ve had nothing but good experiences there. I get from them so much more than I give back.

    • I love that you mention playground rules. I’ve actually been thinking of doing a post on that. 🙂

      We loved the B&N at the Grove. The escalators, the Lego table, the kids’ Nook display. We never had a bad experience there. I blame the local store rather than the chain.

      I do think I learned a lesson about not making assumptions when I’m in a new environment. If the rule is to bring your own trains, then that’s what I should be doing. Still, like you point out, that mom should’ve shared with my sad kid. I’m hoping this is just an isolated incident not an indication of New York vs. California mentality.

      • I’ve gotta believe there are mean parents and nice parents on both coasts – although I do hear NY parents are more cut throat in general (maybe it’s that awful getting-into-private-kindergarten situation they’ve got in the city).

        YES! A playground rules post would be great. I sometimes wish playground rules applied to real life – like if you want to try out someone’s cool new ipad 2 or take their fab sports car for a spin. How great would that be?

  6. My wife was at Barnes and Noble with our daughter by the trains. A little girl was playing with the trains. The four year old screamed daddy get that baby and her fat mom away from me. The dad laughed and asked them to move. Had I been there I would have made sure every one at Barnes and Noble remembered who I was! Needless to say we do not go anymore.

    • What?! That is one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. Rest assured, that little girl and her dad are miserable people if that’s how they see the world. You win in the end. 🙂

  7. Wow. Imagine the wonderful lesson that could have been taught had those mean mommies told their children to share.

    But no… so we get more children that will grow into self-absorbed adults.

    Great post.

    • Thanks, Darlene! I try to see it from her perspective. She learned the rules, she paid for the toys, she did what she had to do to make her kid happy, and she had no responsibility to my kid. Still, she didn’t have to be such a witch about it.

  8. Hi Jerry! I just have to tell you that I LOVE your stories! The children are adorable and I wish you and your partner nothing but success and happiness in your new home! Keep the stories coming!!!!!

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