My mission is quite simple: my wife tasked me with picking up instant oatmeal–not the 5-minute kind I bought last time–for tomorrow’s breakfast. How it came to this I may never understand.
I look down at the fluorescent white reflection haloing my 3-year-old, who is making cherub-sized snow angels on the cold tile floor. His face is as red as the Fruit Loop box he so desperately wants. Rage explodes from his body with ear-piercing shrieks.
My pulse quickens and I can feel each throb in my neck as the cereal aisle council draws near to assess the situation. Their chief approaches first: an overweight, pajama-clad female in her late-40’s carrying a family-sized box of Pop-Tarts. The others form a semi-circle around my child, as his over-sized amygdala takes full control of his body.
I bend to pick up my offspring who returns my loving embrace with noodle-esque maneuvers. I place my inconsolable heir within the prison of my shopping cart and the council session begins.
Each member exchanges glances of judgment and scorn in a silent conversation. When I feel that it’s over, the chief’s dark eyes meet mine to confirm my worst fears:
Your child is dysfunctional.
It’s all your fault.
You’re an awful parent.
It will always be this way.
I accept their ruling and sentence myself to exile, leaving the store with my toddler’s siren call drawing judgment from all who hear. I hang my head in the shame of the scarlet letter blazing on my chest and return home defeated, but with the instant oatmeal. It’s a small victory in light of such enormous failure.
As I turn in the driveway, the squeal of my minivan’s brakes announce my arrival. I step out and look up to see the ivy-covered tree in the backyard.
I remember when my father planted that ivy in the bed around the tree. It was decades ago, when I was a child. Those vines took years to grow to maturity. They grew on sunny days and stormy nights, in harsh cold winters and dry hot summers. They grew because it was their nature to grow.
I take in a deep breath and sigh. When I unbuckle my babe, I see him for the child that he is, not an adult.
He will grow because it is his nature to grow. He will grow in spite of me. He will use both the good and the bad to become a man. Maturity will come, but it will take decades.