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I pulled into the Whole Foods parking lot at 5:00 P.M. and knew immediately it was a mistake. It was packed, cars jammed in every direction anxiously searching for spots. Adeline, my two-year-old, sat in the back, quickly getting fussy and impatient as we circled. Between her whines and the crush of aggressive city drivers, I felt my own irritation start to boil.

Finally I saw it: the white tail lights that meant a spot was opening up. I stopped right in front of it and put my blinker on in the universal sign that I would be taking the spot when the previous occupant left.

As I waited, I saw a minivan at the end of the row, a full forty feet away, with it’s blinker on. I didn’t think much of it. When the car I was waiting for backed up I started to pull in, only to see that minivan speed down the row and start to pull into my spot. The adrenaline was too much, I gestured and swore and honked and kept driving. She screamed back at me and for a second I thought she really might run into my car. My heart was racing, my judgment cloudy, but I kept going and I won the game of parking lot chicken: the spot was mine.

And then she got a spot almost right across from me.

I knew before I stepped out that she would yell at me. When I came into view around the back of the car on the way to get Adeline, it started.

“You should be ashamed of yourself!” She screamed it, outrage dripping from every word, two teenage boys trailing her with their heads down.

“I was waiting for that spot,” I yelled back. “That’s how it works, you put your signal on and wait right behind the spot you want. Not at the other end of the [expletive] row.”

She screamed back and things went on like that. I stood outside Adeline’s door, not wanting to open it, not wanting her to hear this. Finally, the woman was gone, inside the store.

I took a breath and opened the door. When Adeline saw me, she started repeating the things I’d said (so much for that closed door), her voice loud and angry, a grin on her face. She was looking at me for approval – she wanted me to tell her how well she was imitating mommy.

I stood there, thinking how much she mimics me, how closely she watches everything I do, and I knew I hadn’t handled things well. But with the adrenaline still racing, I didn’t know how I could have handled it better.

You should have just let her have the spot, was the first thought. Take a breath, be the bigger person, find another spot. But no. I don’t buy it. She was wrong and letting her have the spot wouldn’t have been fair. I don’t want to teach my daughter to be passive, to be a victim, to let the world walk all over her. Sometimes you have to stand up for what’s yours. Maybe a parking spot isn’t worth it, but then again, maybe it is.

You could have just ignored her when she started yelling. Sure, I could have. But is that really the best thing to do? To bury my head in the sand, pretending that it hadn’t happened? Avoiding confrontation at all costs? That doesn’t feel right either.

The answer, of course, is easy to say and hard to do: I should have responded calmly. I should have explained my point of view, hoping that my peaceful demeanor would deflate her anger. I should have said: “I’m sorry that I honked at you. Everyone is tense in a full parking lot. I know we’re all tired at the end of the day. But I was waiting for this spot and it wasn’t right for you to try to take it. Nor was it safe for you to speed with dozens of people walking through the lot.”

Yep. Easy to say. Hard to do.

The thing is, any time Adeline yells at another kid about taking her toy, I tell her: “Use your words. Be calm. Screaming won’t solve the problem.” But my actions speak louder than my words. When someone tries to steal my toy (parking spot) I yell. How can I possibly expect her to do any different? How can I expect adult behavior from my two-year-old when all she sees is childish behavior from me?

If I want her to learn how to have calm, peaceful interactions, I need to model that behavior. No better place to start than the parking lot.

What do you think? How would you have handled the parking lot situation? How do you wish you would have handled it?

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