Monday, 26 August 2013

"What do you saaaay?"

We went along to a promotional day at a local business today. We've been before, they usually have some nice stalls with various organic food and handmade crafts, plus some pay-to-do activities for the children. On our way in a lady handed me a handful of sheets, explaining that the stalls and activities were in the field, and we could take a big stick to tuck any found treasures into, such as leaves and flowers. "Great, thanks!" said my husband, Gruff. "Hold on," said the woman, passing me another sheaf of paper with pictures on it, "these are dotted around the farm to spot." "Ooh brilliant," I said, smiling, and as I moved to walk away, slightly overwhelmed with the amount of leaflets, pamphlets and information she'd just given me, I realised she wasn't letting go of the paper she'd handed me. I looked up to see what the problem was. "What do you saaaay?" she asked me, raising her eyebrows meaningfully. For a split second I was confused, then Gruff interjected with, "Thanks a lot." "Well done," she said, and released the handful of paper.
We spent a couple of hours there, looking around, and spending a not inconsiderable sum on food, drinks, baking sessions, tractor rides, donkey rides and handmade crafts. Moppet started to get tired so we wandered in the direction of the exit, handing in to the same woman the pencil we'd borrowed to fill in the treasure trail, and then heading for the car.
"Wait! Come back!" she called. Thinking I must have forgotten to return something, we turned back. As I reached her, she handed me a promotional biro from another business. Not quite sure whether it was to fill in my details on a marketing form or something, or whether it was being given to me, I began to take it and looked at her assuming she was going to say what it was for. As I took hold of it, she pulled it back towards her and leaned in towards my face. "What. Do you. Say?" she sternly asked. Intimidated and frankly still a bit confused, I paused for a moment, then heard Gruff say, "Thanks very much." Ignoring him, she pulled on the pen again. "What do *you* say?" she asked me again.
Now I'm going to turn this into a 'choose your own adventure' type of story.
First option: "Please don't speak to me like that," I replied, letting go of the pen and stepping back. "There's actually a brilliant organic farm shop a lot closer to where we live and they speak to their customers with a lot more respect and friendliness. We'll go there from now on. We were going to buy one of your massively expensive organic meat bundles but we'll go for theirs instead. What do *you* say?"
Second option: As it dawned on me that despite me being friendly and grateful, I was being told off by the proprietor of the business for not using the words of her choice to express my gratitude for having been allowed to spend my money with her, and my gratitude for accepting a marketing item that she had specifically called me back to give me, and all this in spite of the fact that I'd been friendly and nice and another member of the family had indeed used her desired words... well I meekly whispered, "Thank you," and she released the pen with a satisfied nod. "Well done," she said.
Which ending would you choose?
Now obviously, this didn't quite happen. Well, it did actually happen word for word, but rather than her talking to me, she was talking to Squidge, who is five and very *very* wary of strangers. He picked option two, just as I was about to interject.
Is what she did more acceptable now it was him and not me? Some would think so. I actually find it less acceptable. He's five. He doesn't have the confidence to say to a grown stranger, "No thanks, keep your pen." He doesn't yet even have the confidence to say, "Thanks for the pen," and yet he's sweet and he smiles and is respectful.
Until he has that confidence, I'm there. He often does say a quiet little thank you (he did to the donkey he rode on today), but if not, or if the person doesn't hear, I express our thanks. I'm happy to do that. He's one of the most verbally thankful children I've ever met, with people he knows. Gradually, as he gets more confident with speech, and around people, and wants to fit into the world more, he's saying it more. He's ordering more himself in restaurants, paying more himself in shops, joining in more at activities when there are people he doesn't know. If I think he might be comfortable saying thanks but hasn't, i sometimes whisper in his ear to see if he wants to. It's all part of the process of childhood, of learning, and it all happens at different rates for different children.
What would be gained from forcing him to say thank you? For him, nothing. In fact the exact opposite. He would lose the meaning of it, the sweetness that comes from expressing sincere gratitude to someone. For the woman in question? After thinking on it, the only answer I can come up with is control. We had already thanked her. The gratefulness of our party had been clearly expressed. She herself actually did not say please or thank you once during either of our interactions. Squidge himself had been sweet and smiled. What more to be gained from insisting that he personally thanked her? Only control.
What's the big deal? you might ask. It *is* a big deal. It matters that people think it's completely reasonable to talk to children in ways they'd never dream of talking to adults. It matters that my five year old son ended what had been a fun afternoon feeling a little bit confused and worried. It matters that, to many people, what children think of them means so very much less than what they think of the children.
It's one thing if people want to parent in a way that forces insincere 'thank you's from their children. If people want to parent in such a way that their children's words are more important than the feelings and intent behind them, that's down to them. If people want to not say please or thank you in an interaction with their child, but then expect the child to do both, whatever, not my business..
But should you, a stranger, proprietor of a business where we are customers, try and force these words uncomfortably from my small child, I can assure you I'll be finding a different business with which to spend my money. So thank *you*.

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