I guessed her to be about 3 years old ...
... a precious child alone in the checkout lane next to me. She was browsing the rows of candy at her eye level and patting them gently. Dressed in a ruffled top with tights and ballerina slippers, she looked like a little doll. Choosing a candy bar, she turned to leave the aisle and then hesitated with a look that said, Is it okay to take this?
My first reaction was to think, Who would leave such a precious child on her own like that? Then I noticed that she (I'll call her Caitlyn) was obviously communicating with someone I hadn't noticed. By gestures and raised eyebrows, she was asking permission for her candy bar.
I glanced behind me and spotted a grown-up version of Caitlyn, a lovely young woman who was busy with a baby. The other, a beautiful lady seated in a wheel chair just 10 feet from us, had eyes on Caitlyn the whole time, as she should. She'd probably given her little granddaughter permission to choose a treat under her watchful eye. Or had she?
Caitlyn continued to wave the candy bar, but the grandmother slowly shook her head no. So she put it back and chose another sticky-sweet treat. Maybe this one? Again the grandmother firmly signaled a negative response. Persistent, Caitlyn continued holding up one gooey goody after another, each time looking back over her shoulder. Each time, Granny shook her head no.
Shoulders slumped, the child gave an audible sigh, walked back to her grandmother and whispered something in her ear. Moments later, she skipped happily back to the aisle beside me. This time, Caitlyn chose a box of cheesy fish crackers. With a big smile she turned, got the okay from her grandmother and did a little jig on the way back to join her family.
They're quite rare you know - young children who are trained at home to behave in public. Even when told no, this child didn't kick or scream or pitch a fit to get her way... even after being turned down numerous times!
I think I've figured it out, though ...
Caitlyn went to the counter knowing ahead of time that sweets weren't what Granny would agree to buy. But she tried anyhow ... hoping, maybe, that her cute smile and big brown eyes would melt grandmother's heart and she'd get her way. But that didn't happen, and I'm glad it didn't.
You see, if we go back on our word, children and grandchildren soon learn we can be connived into bending the rules. Because sometimes they're too cute to resist. If we allow children to think they can wheedle their way because they are cute or well-behaved, we are setting them up for failure in the future.
Teachers can't let children by with something just because they're cute, nor can the principal or a Sunday School teacher or -- as they get older -- a policeman. We owe them our loving guidance and good training now -- no matter how cute they are! It isn't always easy, but we know it's the right thing to do.
Consistency is necessary in child training, and "no" is a perfectly good word.
I caught that grandmother's eye and smiled, then waved goodbye to Caitlyn. Because she is being taught to respect the word "no" and do the right thing, Caitlyn will be able to say no to other things in her lifetime -- things that are much more harmful than a sticky-sweet treat.
And partly because she had a grandmother who loved her too much to give in when she wanted to bend the rules. Was Granny making too big a deal out of a candy bar? I don't think so. I believe she was guiding and teaching her granddaughter that self-discipline and honesty are important traits. And if a candy bar is at the center of that life lesson, so be it.
I want to be a Nana like that -- loving, generous, fun -- all while being calmly consistent with the little rules that can make a big difference. Our grandchildren will be better for it in the long run.