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.”